Mobile operators are receiving a barrage of questions from users after sending them text messages seeking information on their health condition as part of a government plan to draw a digital map to track coronavirus cases and detect potential risk zones.
Instead of acting upon the instructions given in the messages, many rang the operators' call centres to know the purpose of collecting the information.
"Our call centre executives have been rushed off their feet dealing with the numerous calls," said a senior official of a mobile operator asking not to be named.
As per plan, the operators were supposed to share the information with the National Telecom Monitoring Centre (NTMC).
The NTMC along with the Access to Information (a2i) programme under the government's ICT Division would then draw a digital map using the data and artificial intelligence to help the government take stock of the situation.
If the government gets authentic information, it will be able to install quick quarantine facilities, ventilators and ICU beds before the patients become severely ill, said officials working closely with the plan.
"Most people infected with coronavirus start to show symptoms within five days and their condition begins to deteriorate in the next few days. So, the government wants to know in advance," said a top official of a2i.
After getting a directive from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission on Saturday, the mobile operators began sending the messages to their customers from yesterday asking them to call *3332# free of charge if they have cough or fever.
During the 90-second interactive voice response, users are asked to reply to five questions: what their age is; whether they have breathing problems; if they have fever or cough; whether they have come in contact with anyone who has returned from abroad recently; and if they have come close to any coronavirus-infected people.
Users might have taken the SMSs for the run-of-the-mill messages they receive every day, said the official of another mobile operator. "That's why a huge number of them didn't bother to respond," he added.
The operators would need at least a couple of days to complete sending the SMSs to all the 16.62 crore active users in Bangladesh.
The customers' health information is being collected under a self-reporting method to identify the areas where the virus has spread so that the government can come up with a contingency plan and location-based response.
People can also share their health information via http://corona.gov.bd or some mobile applications like bKash, GP, Robi, Banglalink and Uber.
However, as the telecom division has raised questions about customers' data security, the NTMC will have to get the go-ahead from the government to take the process forward, said a government official.
The government already has a huge volume of user data in its hand as about three lakh calls are generated every day in three different platforms: the government's popular helpline of 333, the national health call centre at 16263, and the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control & Research.
The health ministry said their call centre has received 842,480 calls until Thursday, of which 632,177 were related to coronavirus, and the call volume has been growing since last week.