Coronavirus – Technology as a Response
More and more countries report increasing numbers of cases of infection. Following the United States, the European Union is also closing itself off to the outside world in the coronavirus crisis. Besides that, technological solutions should also help.
Since the first registered case in December 1st, the numbers rose continuously all over the world – there are now infected people in more than 70 countries. Nevertheless, the problem is being tackled on several fronts:
During the time of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2002, it took scientists more than a year to decode the genome of the virus. Today, thanks to tech advancements, the Covind-19 genome was identified in a month’s time.
Also, the Chinese government now cooperates with tech giants: It works closely with Alibaba and Tencent to develop a color-coded health rating system -app that is tracking millions of people daily. It assigns three colours to people — green, yellow or red — on the basis of their travel and medical histories. Based on this, it is automatically decided whether the person should be quarantined, or is allowed to use public transport.
Robotics and drones
In addition to this, robots are especially used in East-Asia to support the public: They are on the frontlines to prevent the spread of coronavirus by preparing meals at hospitals, doubling up as waiters in restaurants, or spraying disinfectants and cleaning. In many hospitals, robots are also performing diagnosis and conducting thermal imaging. In some of the severely affected areas, drones have come to the rescue by transporting both medical equipment and patient samples. This is saving time, enhancing the speed of delivery and preventing the risk of samples being contaminated.
While some aspects of technology appear to be helpful all around, others are still quite controversial: Although they are still used in many countries, temperature checks are among the latter. Experts say, that when it comes to curbing the global spread of the coronavirus that causes covid-19, temperature screening has serious costs and limitations: It could miss sick people or falsely identify healthy ones.
In addition to that it is difficult and expensive to acquire enough screening equipment and to train the personnel to use it. If not trained correctly, those wielding the tools don’t hold them close enough to the subject’s forehead, generating unusually low temperature readings, or hold them too close and get a high reading. The measurements can be imprecise in certain environments, like a dusty roadside, or when someone has taken medication to suppress a fever.
By and large body temperature scanners are just like thermometers – they can detect fever, but are not designed to detect the virus. Nevertheless – as many countries have nothing better to react to the masses, the method is still being used by most of them.
For many countries, it is important to have the public informed. Some cities in the United States have therefore started to implement text alert systems to keep residents informed during a public health crisis. These release ongoing, updated information to the public and enable direct messaging from newsrooms or even provide livestreams of an important press conference. This allows information to be disseminated and shared quickly – so people don’t have to specifically search for updates or wait for the news on tv.
Next to that, a “Coronavirus Testing Website” by Google’s sister company, Verily, was rolled out to two Northern California counties in hopes of guiding people to local virus testing. However, it quickly reached capacity in its test phase. It also ran into two issues: First, it was telling people with symptoms of the virus that they were not eligible for the screening program. And second, they were asked to create an account with Google or log in to an existing Google account and sign an authorization form. The website has been mired in controversy from the start, however, there is no current timetable for a national rollout of its screening program.
Other countries get creative: Israel plans to re-use “anti-terrorism” tracking technology and a partial shutdown of its economy to minimise the risk of coronavirus transmission. Here cyber monitoring would be deployed to locate people who have been in contact with those carrying the virus. This – of course – comes with privacy concerns: Such capabilities could include real-time tracking of infected persons’ mobile phones to figure out where they had been and who they had contacted – an intrusive act, which could be seen as problematic.
Comparable methods also appear in Europe: A1, the largest telecommunications company in Austria, provides the government with the movement profiles of all mobile phone users throughout the country. The company does this on its own initiative. Current flows are compared with those prior to the entry into force of the output restriction. However, it is highly questionable whether this is legally covered.
 Geospatial World (2020): How China is using technology to fight coronavirus. URL at: https://www.geospatialworld.net/blogs/how-china-is-using-technology-to-fight-coronavirus/
 The Washington Post (2020): Some countries use temperature checks for coronavirus. Others don’t bother. Here’s why. URL at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/coronavirus-temperature-screening/2020/03/14/24185be0-6563-11ea-912d-d98032ec8e25_story.html
 The New York Times (2020): ‘Thermometer Guns’ on Coronavirus Front Lines Are ‘Notoriously Not Accurate’. URL at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/14/business/coronavirus-temperature-sensor-guns.html
 Technical.ly (2020): How the City uses its text alert system to keep residents informed during a public health crisis. URL at: https://technical.ly/philly/2020/03/16/city-philadelphia-text-alert-system-public-health-crisis-coronavirus-covid19/
 The New York Times (2020): Coronavirus Testing Website Goes Live and Quickly Hits Capacity. URL at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/16/technology/coronavirus-testing-website-google.html
 Aljazeera (2020): Israel to use ‘anti-terror’ technology to counter coronavirus. URL at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/israel-anti-terror-technology-counter-coronavirus-200315090238052.html
 DerStandard (2020): Mobilfunker A1 liefert Bewegungsströme von Handynutzern an Regierung. URL at: https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000115828957/mobilfunker-a1-liefert-bewegungsstroeme-von-handynutzern-der-regierung