Pakistan’s intelligence services are deploying secretive surveillance technology normally used to locate militants to instead track coronavirus (COVID-19) patients and the people they come into contact with.

In a programme publicly touted by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the government has turned to the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) for help in tackling the virus, which still is spreading at an accelerating rate across Pakistan.

Details about the project have not been released, but two officials told AFP that intelligence services are using geo-fencing and phone-monitoring systems that ordinarily are employed to hunt high-value targets including homegrown and foreign militants.

A lack of awareness, stigma and fear have contributed to some people with symptoms not seeking treatment or even fleeing hospitals, while others who’ve had contact with virus patients have flouted self-isolation rules.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior security official said that agencies are “quite effectively” using the technology to track patients.

Geo-fencing, a discreet tracking system that alerts authorities when someone leaves a specific geographic area, has helped officials monitor neighbourhoods on lockdown.

Authorities are also listening in to the calls of coronavirus (COVID-19) patients to monitor whether their contacts are talking about having symptoms.

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