How to Restart the Service Sector: Kazakhstan Has Found a Solution

New mobile application Ashyq helps to track those who are probably sick with COVID-19

In an interview with Kursiv, deputy head of the Digital Innovation & Transformation company Vitaliy Pustovoytenko has told how the company has created the Ashyq app and how long it may work to support the sector of services in Kazakhstan.

At the end of February, chief sanitary doctor Erlan Kiyasov officially approved the mobile application Ashyg for businesses in Nur-Sultan, Almaty and Karaganda. The app’s work is based on a QR code that is assigned to each business whether it is a spa, fitness center, or computer club. In turn, those who come there are obliged to use the app to prove that they do not pose a risk of infection. 

Technically the idea is simple: the app is linked with information systems of United Integration Portal of PCR tests and the Center for COVID-19 Control under the Ministry of Health. Once a user enters the app with his identification number or IIN, it shows the information about his status by a certain color. If the color is red it means that the person tested positive; yellow – the person has been in contact with someone sick, blue – no information, and green – the user tested negative for COVID-19. 

Even if a customer doesn’t use the app, business employees would be able to find out his status just by using his IIN. As a result, those who are already sick or infected won’t be able to enter a cafe or other public place. It’s expected that the app would help to reduce the coronavirus spreading until this threat is over completely.

– Vitaliy, how you have come up with the idea of Ashyq?

– Since 2019 I have been a member of the Atameken chamber’s regional council in Nur-Sultan where my task is to serve as the head of the committee on services and digitalization. Last year quarantine measures were introduced and I’ve received tons of complaints from our entrepreneurs. We thought about what we can do for businesses and people and came up with an idea to develop a digital tool that can show the status of certain customers and give a business the justification to let them in or not.

In 2020 our team already launched several projects in Nur-Sultan and some other cities. For example, we have created a system to make sure that individuals with COVID-19 are staying at home on quarantine; developed a mechanism of applying for permission to leave a city or a region during the lockdown, and introduced a tool for applying for utility benefits. I mean, we have already had some experience; we knew how to integrate data from several sources at once. Therefore, we immediately began to work when we realized that our help was needed.

– How long would Ashyq be in place and what would it cost for businesses?

– The costs are close to zero, all that is needed are two QR codes (for each entrance and exit), you can download them on the website. Then you have to print it out and control the flow of customers. If a business has more than one entrance it should obtain an OQ code for each of them. The registration of customers should be organized not only at the entrance but also at the exit because the authorities want to know how many people were there inside. If a customer was registered at the entry and then just left, the system may think he is still inside. In this case, owners of that business might be accused of violations of the quarantine restrictions, so they have to be careful.

The app works because in Nur-Sultan entrepreneurs were just happy to get this opportunity. Ashyq is protecting public health from coronaviruses, but also it is a tool to help businesses let customers in with minimal risks. Therefore, many small- and medium-sized businesses which couldn’t work during lockdown can work now. The app has been used for three months in the capital of the country and we’ve heard no complaints from entrepreneurs over that time. Many have told us that they are okay with the tool. However, I want to make it clear: once the restrictions are gone, the app will be closed. This is a temporary requirement. 

– People called Ashyq a stoplight because of its color gamma. How does it work? 

–  It’s simple: customers have to download an app to his / her smartphone, make registration and scan the QR code while entering a café, restaurant, whatever. The customer’s IIN will be used for searching in the databases of the Ministry of Health. If the person has tested positive for COVID, the system shows a red signal. If he had contact with a sick person, the signal will be yellow. The green color would mean that the customer has tested negative. And the last color is blue, which means there is no information about the customer. So, only those who have green or blue color indications would be able to enter inside.

The main point here is the app’s role – it helps businesses to meet safety requirements. I’d say more: the pilot project has shown that it can be an effective solution for the sector of services to lift some of the restrictions. And, of course, it also allows people to feel more comfortable while being inside, because I know several cases when Ashyq prevented people who tested positive for COVID from entering public places. I mean, the risk of infection becomes lower, if one infected, who poses a threat to more than a hundred people, stayed outside. However, the app is not a reason to not comply with other safety requirements such as social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands and proper ventilation.

– According to the Ministry of Digital Development, Innovations and Aerospace Industry the Ashyq app is a fully domestic IT product. Is it true? 

– Absolutely. The app was developed by the Digital Innovation & Transformation team over a very short period because we already had some experience in digitalization. For example, we have participated in Smart City and Smart University projects. Concerning Smart City, we developed several apps such as a medical app for remote appointment booking, drug searching, complaining, etc. Another big project, Smart University. let us develop several apps for Kazakhstani students. So, the Ashyg app is not the only or main product for us.

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