Tony Pua: HIDE poorly designed and assumptions behind data misguided

(Photo by Sam Fong/The Edge)

(Photo by Sam Fong/The Edge)

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Media Statement by Tony Pua, DAP's national publicity secretary and the Member of Parliament for Damansara in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, May 10, 2021:

Unless the Government intends to paralyse or permanent shut down retail malls and supermarkets, it must suspend the use of the deeply flawed Hotspot Identification system (HIDE) with immediate effect.

The Government was well-intentioned in implementing a hotspot identification system for potential COVID-19 breakout areas, in order to steer the public away from areas with elevated risk of contracting the virus. Together with Bank Negara Malaysia, which somehow got involved in this project, the Government rolled out the Hotspot Identification for Dynamic Engagement (HIDE) system two days ago.

According to the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOSTI), HIDE will project potential new hotspots in the next 7 days based on data collected by the MySejahtera mobile application.

The idea sounds brilliant, stop the spread of COVID-19 before it happens based on data that has been collected by the Government.

Unfortunately, it is clear that HIDE has been poorly designed and the assumptions behind the data is misguided. Under such circumstances, not only will HIDE fail to prevent the transmission of the virus, it can create major unintended negative consequences for business, which are already hit badly from the crisis, as well as for the people’s livelihood.

This is especially after the coordinating Minister for the National Security Council, Dato’ Seri Ismail Sabri hastily imposed a 3-day shutdown of all locations listed by HIDE.

The Government should have realised that something is amiss when the overwhelming bulk of the locations listed by HIDE were the major shopping malls and supermarkets. Pretty much every single mall of note were listed as potential clusters based on the data collected in the past 7 days. This was despite the fact that the historical data showed shopping malls contributed to less than 5% of the COVID clusters, as opposed to factories (48%) and construction (11.6%).

If malls and supermarkets were such obvious and critical risk of becoming COVID clusters, they would have become clusters a long time ago, and not only in the next 7 days. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out how HIDE became so deeply flawed. The system designers of HIDE had treated all MySejahtera codes ‘equally’ in terms of risk and compliance with anti-COVID standard operating procedures (SOPs). Except that they are not at all equal.

One Utama Shopping Centre in Petaling Jaya and Pavillion Kuala Lumpur has 2.19 million and 1.6 million square feet in retail space respectively. Both malls have more than 700 individual outlets and business operating within. A walk within the malls these days is often extremely pleasant because the visitors numbers are low and there is plenty of space within the malls. However, One Utama and Pavillion uses a single MySejahtera code each. This contrast against a typical 2,000 sq ft retail outlet operating in a shop lot or a cramped 1,600 sq ft office space which both also uses a single MySejahtera code each. The latter might be more at risk because they may have higher traffic per square feet, or they have 30 workers squeezed into the same space.

However, in absolute terms, the number of people deemed somewhat ‘risky’ – a methodology that has yet been clearly clarified by MOSTI – will naturally be much higher in malls than that in the individual retail outlet or office space. That’s the simple reason why more than 90% of the locations issued by HIDE comprised of malls and supermarkets. This is despite the malls presenting no higher risk of becoming COVID clusters, or are potentially even safer than other sites.

We call upon the National Security Council and MOSTI to immediately suspend the implementation of HIDE until and unless the deep flaws in the system are resolved with more intelligent algorithms. Otherwise, we can continue to expect malls to open and shutter every few days simply because they will invariably appear at the top of the HIDE list due to the volume of traffic as a natural result of their sheer size of operations.

Unless it is the intent of the Government to take this opportunity to victimise all mall and supermarket businesses across the country, putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work, the Government must not hide from its terrible HIDE and do the right thing now.

Read also:
Retailers fall, REITs mostly unchanged on HIDE impact
MMA suggests MoH to conduct mass Covid-19 test in HIDE's hotspot areas
Conflicting HIDE statements by Khairy, Ismail Sabri wreak havoc among retail outlets