Asia Minute: Quarantine: Checking Who’s Home Alone

Apr 9, 2020

Police across the islands are starting to crack down on people who are disobeying “stay at home” orders. On Oahu, police are moving from warnings to misdemeanor arrests. Across Asia, authorities are facing a slightly different challenge: dealing with those who break quarantine.

Here’s a question that’s become more relevant lately. How do you make sure someone stays in a self-monitored quarantine?

Turns out the honor system doesn’t always work, so governments around Asia are trying some different approaches.

About three weeks ago, Hong Kong started using an electronic wristband with an app to track those in quarantine. There was an early technical glitch and some mixed results since then — along with an ongoing debate about civil liberties.

That debate is now echoing in South Korea, where the government is considering a similar move. Nearly 50,000 people in South Korea are supposed to be staying home alone, and authorities generally track them through the GPS that’s part of their mobile phones.

Police say they’ve identified scores of people who have been violating self-quarantines, largely by leaving their phones at home while they go out — sometimes even just turning off their phones.

The next step could be an electronic bracelet with a Bluetooth connection to the phone, and when the distance between the phone and the bracelet gets to be too far, an alarm will sound.

Thailand uses a mobile app without an electronic bracelet – so does Vietnam.

In Taiwan there’s a mix, including a system where authorities call the phones of those supposedly in quarantine — just to make sure they haven’t left their phones and wandered off.