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Learning from China: Mobilising the Power of Digital Technology in the Fight Against Covid-19
March 23, 2020 News

 

The novel coronavirus, now known as Covid-19, was first discovered in the city of Wuhan, China, in December 2019. In the short span of three months, it has affected over 172* countries and territories around the world, recording 219* million cases and over 8,900* deaths. Concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Covid-19 as a pandemic.

In Malaysia, the country’s first recorded case was in January and the number has recently soared to 790*, placing it as the most affected country in South East Asia. As a result, the government has implemented a nationwide movement control order that limits public movements as an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19 beginning 18 March until 31 March 2020.

Living amidst an outbreak is understandably difficult. Fortunately, technology has come a long way in allowing us to better manage and mitigate the far-reaching and potentially devastating impact of Covid-19. China’s experience in combatting the virus while enabling its people to lead daily life close to normal has particularly gained the world’s attention, thanks to the country’s massive adoption of digital technology in various sectors. From blockchain, to robotics, to the humble QR code, here we look at some of the best solutions from China that’s worth learning from.

 

Blockchain

When news of the novel virus hit, support came pouring in for the front-line medical workers in China’s Hubei Province in the form of donation for face masks, medical materials, and cash that they badly need. However, criticisms were soon raised on the poor distribution of resources. To address this, start-up Hyperchain and China Xiong’an Group created Shanzong, a blockchain-based donation online tracking platform that tracked the donations, distribution methods and how it was matched to areas of need.

With over 80 million cases and 3,000 deaths in China, online mutual aid platform like Ant Financial’s Xiang Hu Bao has also relied on blockchain technology to fast track medical and insurance claims payouts after adding Covid-19 as a critical illness.

To help businesses deal with potential financial constraints during this epidemic, Duo-Chain, a blockchain-powered supply chain finance platform by Ant Financial is also helping many small and medium suppliers (SMEs) to apply loans from banks with the companies’ receivables from large enterprises.

In the Gansu Province, Ant Financial launched a blockchain-powered online bid opening system, enabling SMEs to participate in contactless bidding remotely during the Covid-19 outbreak. Blockchain technology ensures materials and processes from  the bid openings are temper proof, therefore guaranteeing that the contactless bidding participation is transparent and trustworthy.

 

Artificial Intelligence

With its ability to learn quickly, AI is being used in China to fight the virus on all fronts. Alibaba’s research institute Damo Academy, for instance, has developed AI-powered diagnosis system that promises to detect new coronavirus cases via computerised tomography scans. Using sample data from more than 5,000 confirmed cases, the new system could identify differences in CT scans between patients infected with the novel virus and those with ordinary viral pneumonia with an accuracy of up to 96%.

In subways, train stations, airports, and social service centers, automated surveillance that could monitor, track and identify people with high temperatures has been deployed to find and control potential risks and to assist with necessary actions. Megvii Technology for example has a system that could test 300 people in a minute, while SenseTime’s version could identify those without face masks.

To reduce virus transmission through direct contact in public places with large traffic such as property communities, hospitals and railway stations, Sugr Technology has developed a voice-controlled non-contact electrical switch, called “sesame switch”, which could sense and recognise voice sensitively and voice-control operation on switches even from a long distance.

On the medical front, Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center (SPHCC) has collaborated with Yitu Healthcare, a Shanghai-based AI startup, to launch it launched an Intelligent Evaluation System of Chest CT for COVID-19 that accurately quantifies and grades the severity of various pneumonia diseases to help doctors make faster clinical evaluation and prognosis.

 

Robots and Drones

As people observe social distancing, the use of robots and drones to replace close human contact mitigate the spread of Covid-19 has gained traction. Service robots by Keenon Robotics Co for example is now used in several Chinese hospitals dealing with Covid-19. These robots are deployed to deliver food, medicines and goods to isolation wards after receiving directions from remote operators. Similarly, meal-delivery robots by Shenzhen’s Pudu Technology has been installed in more than 40 hospitals around the country to help medical staff autonomously deliver meals to patients.

In Wuhan, a mobile CT imaging vehicle from Ping An Health Inspection Center was used to help people diagnose Covid-19 from outside the hospital. The vehicle became the first mobile means that is equipped with full body CT machine, intelligent imaging cloud system and a 5G communications module.

In the air space, Chinese drone maker, DJI, repurposed its agricultural drones to spray disinfectant in potentially affected areas, while thermal cameras were used to monitor body temperature so medical staff can identify new potential cases. The company also fitted drones with loudspeakers to help disperse public gatherings in crowded places and flew banners advising people how to learn more about precautions. Elsewhere, MicroMultiCopter, deployed its drones to transport medical samples and conduct thermal imaging.

 

Humble QR Code

As China eases its lockdown order, administrators in more than 200 cities across China have launched a temporary health code services via Alipay mini app, in addition to other platforms such as WeChat and dedicated web portals run by epidemic mitigation authorities, to keep the virus from spreading.

The service assigns a QR code in one of the three colors, red, yellow and green to indicate the person’s infection risk levels. To pass manned checkpoints at airports and train satiations, city administrators require residents to show their QR codes. Those with a green code can move freely, while a yellow and red person would need to remain in quarantine.

 

Technology is the way forward

As countries around the world grapple with Covid-19, the technological and socioeconomic measures implemented in China may be instructive for other countries including Malaysia that are struggling to contain the virus.

These are the lessons we could learn on the importance of preparedness to prevent and control infectious disease outbreak. As new technologies and innovations are introduced in this environment, we look to governments, companies and people to play an active role in shaping future frameworks to modernize disease control and prevention in our country and around the world.

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