Vietnamese millennials turn quarantine experiences into app

Returning to Vietnam on March 14, 22-year-old Nguyen Tuan Minh was among thousands of overseas students fleeing Europe after the continent becoming the global epicentre for COVID-19. 

Vietnamese millennials turn quarantine experiences into app

Soldiers from Hoa Binh Province Military Command unload luggage belonging to Vietnamese nationals returning from overseas who were quarantined at T14 Regiment on May 9.

The abundance of non-essential goods being supplied from the outside by anxious families put an excessive workload on the shoulders of medical workers, who were both caring for the lodgers and delivering packages. Poor communication inside the camp was also a real problem, Minh said after two weeks in isolation. 

“One time, doctors had to knock every single door just to inform us that there was an infection confirmed in our camp,” Minh recalled. 

Sharing common experiences in isolation, Minh and four other Vietnamese overseas students teamed up and won Hack Cô Vy 2020 – a 48-hour online hackathon searching for digital solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic – which also attracted some 400 Vietnamese youngsters from around the world.

“Quaranhome is a smartphone-based application to manage centralised quarantine camps,” said Minh. 

“The idea was initiated by our teammate Do Thanh Long and co-developed by other members,” said Minh. 

Quaranhome is designed to be used internally at each quarantine camp with each person provided a personal code to access. The code is renewed after 14 days in case their stay is prolonged. 

It offers a news feed supporting different languages which helps the camp’s management board to promptly provide information, a hotline, inquiry forms, maps, a schedule and even a quiz to learn about COVID-19. 

“A group chat is the standout feature of Quaranhome as it protects users’ security and privacy. Not everyone in quarantine zones feels free to share their personal Facebook or Zalo accounts with strangers,” said Minh, adding “it was also more effective to monitor those who joined and left the group, as well as stopping spam.” 

“Winning teams persuaded the jury as they offered innovative solutions for long-existing issues,” said Ngan Jasmine Nguyen, Regional Manager Asia Pacific of AngelHack – the competition’s co-host. 

“For Quaranhome, developers conveyed their personal stories during their stays at quarantine camps in the product, trying to unravel tangles in the management of these camps as well as maximise experiences of people staying there 14 days or so,” she added. 

UNDP Vietnam – a co-organiser of Hack Cô Vy – said they looked for applications that could address both the immediate COVID-19 response and its broader socio-economic impacts.

“Although, finding innovative solutions to address COVID-19 was the key objective, as the UNDP we also wanted to emphasise the process and create a space to bring together innovators from all backgrounds as only by accelerating bottom-up grassroots innovation and local solutions in this way, we bring collective intelligence to bear, in addressing challenges such as COVID-19 effectively,” said Caitlin Wiesen, UNDP Resident Representative in Vietnam. 

Time to rethink

The pandemic had offered opportunities to rethink business models and digital transformation, according to Ngan. 

“It can be seen as an opening chapter for social entrepreneurship and projects with a human focus, not just business as usual,” she said. 

Sharing the opinion, Wiesen said COVID-19 had demonstrated the need for rethinking how we look at development. 

 

“It requires new sets of competencies that move away from single point solutions to understanding systems change,” she stressed. 

AngelHack is now working with seven teams selected from the hackathon to turn ideas into reality and put their applications on the market within the next three months. 

“Each team receives the support from our network of mentors and partners including Amazon Web Services and financial assistance of US$2,000 to build infrastructure and develop content,” Ngan added. 

Wiesen said the UNDP Vietnam was also supporting a 12-week accelerator programme where the solutions would be further developed.

The biggest challenge facing developers, according to Ngan, was how to sustain these projects in the long run. 

“If they only depend on funding and fail to expand their customer base, it will be difficult to maintain their performance and create social impacts,” she said. 

“That is the problem we are working on in the next three months: how to build products, access the market, approach customers while accelerating positive changes for the community,” Ngan added. 

For Quaranhome, the team expects to complete the project by the end of May. 

“In the long term, we want to develop Quaranhome into a communications network used among small communities such as residential clusters, or at events,” said Minh. 

“However, at the moment, we are pulling out all the stops to perfect the application so it can be used in quarantine camps nationwide. The team is pleased to hear from other like-minded people and recommendations via our email ungdungquaranhome@gmail.com,” he added. 

As of Thursday, Vietnam had 13,700 people being isolated at centralised quarantine camps, hospitals, or at home. 

The country on Wednesday received some 340 Vietnamese nationals, mostly children, the elderly, sick people, tourists and people whose visas had expired, returning from Russia via Van Don Airport in Quang Ninh Province. 

With no new cases of COVID-19 reported on Thursday, Vietnam has gone four consecutive weeks without any community transmissions.  VNS

Khoa Thu

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