Exclusive: How West Java uses QR codes to fight Coronavirus

By Yun Xuan Poon

The Open Source ‘Pikobar’ initiative fights fake news, arranges medical tests and crowdfunds support for care workers.

Indonesia now has the highest Covid-19 death toll in ASEAN, less than a month after it reported its first confirmed case. Hospitals risk being overwhelmed by the surge of confirmed cases, as well as panicked citizens rushing to get tested.

West Java, one of the worst-hit areas in Indonesia, has registered 60 cases and 10 deaths as of 24 March. The province’s digital team, Jabar Digital Service, this week launched a service to help manage the strain on healthcare facilities.

The app generates QR code invitations for residents to get tested for the virus, which “is very important because our hospitals are limited,” Setiaji, West Java’s Digital Head tells GovInsider. This is one function of the new Open Source Pikobar app, which launched this week to share data, help register for tests, and collect donations to help hospital staff.

Managing strain on healthcare system

The province wants to avoid healthcare facilities from getting overwhelmed by people without symptoms trying to get tested, Setiaji says, noting that “this application is like a filter.” Users first conduct a preliminary self-diagnosis through the app to find out if they should get tested. They can check their symptoms against those of Covid-19, as well as other similar illnesses like flu and cough.

If they have symptoms, they are recommended to visit a hospital. If it’s not likely they are infected with Covid-19, the app gives recommendations, such as to rest or to take more vitamins.

When the app determines that a citizen should go for a test, it will issue a QR code invitation and tell them where they can find the nearest hospital. Citizens have to present this QR code at the hospital to receive a testing.

This QR code also includes a time slot for citizens to receive the test. “We schedule it, otherwise hospitals will be crowded and [the coronavirus] can spread,” explains Setiaji.

The QR code is also designed so it can only be used once. If citizens test negative, however, “the QR code can be used again in one week’s time, because the incubation phase for Covid-19 is very long,” says Setiaji.

Daily updates

Image from thebaselab.co

Pikobar shares daily updates about the number of confirmed and suspected cases in West Java, Indonesia and around the world. This information is sourced from local health agencies, the central government, and a global Covid-19 data portal respectively. This serves as a source of “true and real information of Covid-19,” says Setiaji.

The app includes a map so users can see how the virus has spread across West Java. “This gives some awareness to people living in villages,” notes Setiaji. If villagers see that their village has a confirmed or suspected case, they can start being more careful by staying home more and avoiding social contact.

Users can also access handy contacts such as emergency numbers. The app even provides information on the coronavirus, including how it spreads and how to avoid contracting it, says Setiaji.


Image from Kitabisa

West Java citizens are stepping in to make sure medical staff have the resources they need. Pikobar is linked to crowdfunding site Kitabisa (which roughly translates to ‘we can’ from Bahasa Indonesia), so users can donate money to buy essential supplies, such as masks and protective gear, for frontline staff.

The app allows healthcare providers to submit the items they need. Both the information and the money then goes to West Java Quick Response, the province’s social work task force, who will buy and deliver the supplies. Kitabisa has collected 176 million rupiah (US$10,952) for healthcare staff supplies, as of 25 March.

Fighting fake news

In times of uncertainty, fake news can create even more public panic and disarray. Pikobar seeks to weed out rumours about the novel coronavirus to ensure citizens remain well-informed.

The app links users directly to West Java’s anti-fake news website, which publishes and clarifies five fake news stories circulating in the province each week. This website was set up to combat the sociopolitical problems and unrest, and is now including Covid-related news.

As of 24 March, the website has identified 60 fake news articles related to Covid-19. “One of these was that the virus can spread through eye contact,” shares Setiaji. Good thing this isn’t true.

Jabar Digital Service has made Pikobar open source, so software developers outside of West Java can adapt it to make it work for their region, says Setiaji. With this, we may be seeing more provinces in Indonesia pushing out their own Covid response apps based on his teams’ work.

Viruses cross provincial boundaries and borders, but fortunately so does innovation.