The Malaysian Government recently launched the Hotspot Identification for Dynamic Engagement (“HIDE
According to Khairy Jamaluddin, the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, the HIDE system is an early warning system to identify potential Covid-19 hotspots using predictive technology, big data analytics and artificial intelligence.1
The Minister clarified that the areas identified by the HIDE system differ from areas identified by the Ministry of Health as Covid-19 clusters.2
Khairy added that the HIDE system serves as a guide for authorities and operators of premises to take pre-emptive measures to prevent the outbreak of new Covid-19 clusters at the premises that have been identified as potential Covid-19 hotspots.3
On 8 May 2021, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation published the first list of potential Covid-19 hotspots that were identified through the HIDE system. Included among them are shopping malls, office premises, supermarkets and bazaars. At the same time, the said Ministry also issued a set of frequently asked questions (“FAQs
”) to provide more information on the HIDE system.
According to the FAQs, a premises is included in the HIDE system when the backward and forward contact tracing using data from the MySejahtera application shows a sizeable number of individuals who were potentially exposed to Covid-19 positive individuals have visited the premises.
The FAQs also state that a premises that has been flagged by the HIDE system is not required to shut down, unless required by the enforcement authorities. The occupant of such premises is encouraged to quickly take pre-emptive measures, such as checking the risk status of MySejahtera check-ins and disallowing individuals with ‘high risk’ status from entering the premises, carrying out Covid-19 screening of workers in the premises, and enhancing crowd control measures. The FAQs suggest that the pre-emptive measures should be carried out for seven days.
Crucially, the FAQs clarify that a premises is likely to be removed from the list of potential Covid-19 hotspots under the HIDE system if a hotspot does not materialise at the premises within seven days after it has been listed.
Later in the afternoon of 8 May 2021, Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that all premises listed as potential Covid-19 hotspots in the HIDE system are required to close for three days.4
Without doubt the HIDE system is a welcomed addition to the country’s fight against Covid-19 as it allows people to decide whether to avoid places that are identified as potential Covid-19 hotspots and enables a more targeted intervention approach to be adopted to control the spread of Covid-19 in the community. Regrettably, the implementation appears to be rather inconsistent and confusing.
First, Khairy explained that the HIDE system identifies potential
Covid-19 hotspots which suggests that these places have not reached the level of cases to be classified as Covid-19 clusters. Nevertheless, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri has insisted that the premises identified by the HIDE system be closed for three days.
At the time of writing this Alert, the Sabah State National Security Council had decided to allow shopping malls in Sabah which are listed under the HIDE system to continue operating with a limited number of patrons and by observing physical distancing.5
The Ministry of Transport also appears to be disregarding Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri’s directive as it announced on 9 May 2021 that all public transport services at stations and terminals will remain operational notwithstanding that they are listed under the HIDE system.6
Second, while nice buzzwords like “predictive
”, “big data
” and “artificial intelligence
” have been used to describe the HIDE system, the Government should not “HIDE” behind these buzzwords but be transparent and explain in greater detail to the public (especially business owners) as to how the algorithms determine that a premises is to be included as a potential Covid-19 hotspot under the HIDE system. Merely stating that a “sizeable number
” of individuals who were “potentially exposed to Covid-19 positive individuals
” had visited the premises is vague, and begs the question as to what constitutes a “sizeable number
” and whether such number is fixed or variable, based on the size and location of the premises. It is also to be noted that the visitors to the premises may not be Covid-19 positive and may not have been actually exposed but were “potentially exposed
” to Covid-19 positive individuals. Certain mall operators have expressed concerns as to the accuracy of data used by the HIDE system and called for greater transparency as to how tracing is carried out.7
A leading local newspaper had carried the headline “Nowhere to Hide” to describe the imminent release of the first list of Covid-19 hotspots identified by the HIDE system. As the inclusion of a business premises as a potential Covid-19 hotspot under the HIDE system for a duration of at least seven days is likely to have significant adverse effects on its business, it is incumbent on the Government to explain how the HIDE system determines whether a premises is a potential Covid-19 hotspot or otherwise. It is hoped that the criteria used is reasonable and justifiable. Otherwise, it will be a faux pas
from which the Government will have nowhere to hide.
The list of potential Covid-19 hotspots identified by the HIDE system can be accessed here
Commentary by Kok Chee Kheong (Partner), Tan Wei Liang (Associate) and Tai Kean Lynn (Associate) of Skrine.