Tracking and testing key to Bahrain’s Covid-19 strategy

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One of the first countries in the region to register cases of Covid-19, Bahrain has harnessed digital solutions to implement a robust medical response to the pandemic.

Stringent screening and testing procedures have been implemented since the first local case was reported on February 21, which was followed by the closure of all educational institutions four days later and all non-essential businesses on March 26.

Given that a large proportion of Bahrain’s early Covid-19 cases were citizens returning home from religious pilgrimages in Iran, health officials set up a so-called war room in late February to limit community transmission of the virus: the initiative includes screening and testing of those entering the country from abroad, as well as the triaging of individuals or groups suspected of coming into contact with the virus.

To assist those considered to have a high risk of exposure to Covid-19, health authorities have set up specialised camps to treat people arriving from countries with significant numbers of confirmed cases.

This approach has also been complemented by extensive testing of the general population. As of April 20 some 89,225 people out of a population of approximately 1.5m had been tested for the virus, according to official statistics.

By the same date the country had 1907 confirmed cases and seven deaths, out of a global count of 2.48m infections and 170,000 fatalities.

App monitoring central to containment

Key to the efforts to contain the spread of the virus has been a series of e-health solutions designed to track cases.

One of these is the BeAware Bahrain app, launched on March 31 by the Information and eGovernment Authority (iGA).

Available for free on Android and iOS, the app features real-time local and international statistics and updates, as well as a number of health services and instructions from relevant authorities.

Furthermore, as part of an attempt to prevent community transmission, the app uses location data to alert users if they approach a carrier of Covid-19, or an area that people with confirmed cases have visited.

Using push notifications and SMS, the app informs users who may have come into contact with active cases, and asks that they make efforts to be tested.

The app has seen strong uptake and registration: on April 17 the iGA reported that BeAware Bahrain had been downloaded 294,516 times.

In another initiative, on April 4 the government announced that people under quarantine would be required to wear electronic bracelets to ensure compliance with virus control methods.

Using GPS technology and real-time tracking, the bracelets inform health officials when those in quarantine – either at home or in specialised health centres – stray more than 15 metres from their designated isolation area.

The implementation of such tracking methods has been key to containing the virus in Bahrain, a country with the third-highest rate of population density in the world.

Repatriation of citizens

As the outbreak of the pandemic shut down many transport and logistics routes globally, the repatriation of citizens abroad has posed another challenge to Bahraini authorities.

On April 7 the government announced that more than 1200 citizens stranded abroad had returned home.

Due to border closures and political sensitivities, in some cases the Bahraini government organised special flights for citizens abroad, such as a series of charter connections from Mashhad in Iran to Bahrain's capital, Manama.

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