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COVID-19: Making the Best Use of Technology, Data and Information

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By Ankit Ratan

For those away from the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, behaviour change started with runs to the chemist to buy sanitizer. With rising anxieties making us compulsively refresh coronavirus dashboards, social distancing and stocking pantries within months.

Among increasing death tolls and references to dystopian apocalyptic times, there are also stories of heroic frontline workers, global solidarity, quarantine creativity and technological innovations.

Technology: Boon/Bane/Balm? 

Computer modelling of the coronavirus’s spread based on travel data is aiding epidemiologists predict its next move. Professionals across the globe are trying to ascertain how the disease will pan out, to help governments take precautionary measures and maintain accurate numbers. However, a model is as good as the data fed into it. Even with uncertain numbers, modelers are trying to work on critical issues like number of asymptomatic carriers, undetected cases etc.

Some technological measures deployed in the time of corona are assessed below:


China fought the Corona crisis with technology at its frontline, including reports of new hospitals in Wuhan staffed only with robots. Some other practices are:

Colour Coded QR

Alipay Health Code, a quarantine determination project set to have nationwide implementation is an app developed for the local Hangzhou Government with help from Alibaba’s sister company Ant Financial. The app colour codes a citizen’s risk factor as red, yellow or green when entering public transportation, office or even one’s apartment through scanning a QR code. This can be accompanied with name, ID number, temperature and recent travel history.

Neither Chinese officials nor Alipay have detailed how people are classified by this system. It is speculated the app uses Big Data sourced from transport agencies, health centres, and state-owned firms to identify potential carriers of the virus.

Drones, Robots and Autonomous Vehicles

Cities under lockdown, are using drones to transport medical supplies, patient samples and even spray disinfectant across large areas. According to authorities aerial tech is an effective way to scan and identify someone needing medical attention and warn those not wearing masks.

Robots are doubling up as cooks, cleaners, and delivery personals to minimize human contact. Thermal imaging and basic diagnostics are important functions for robots at the frontlines.

China has also nurtured self-driving, autonomous vehicle platforms such as Baidu’s Apollo. They are proving to be effective at reducing human contact and ensure delivery of essential supplies.

Tech giants like Alibaba and DIDI are contributing their computing power to help hospitals perform diagnoses and possibly find a cure.

China is returning to normalcy post Covid-19.


The U.S. government and public health experts are considering taking the help of private companies to aggregate anonymous smartphone location data. It could be a powerful tool to pinpoint the next hotspot or allocate health resources, talks are underway with Google and Facebook on this.

South Korea

In South Korea, multiple apps were built to help track the virus spread by sourcing data from publicly available government information. Using the “Corona 100m” app one can determine their proximity to a coronavirus patient. The government also notifies on the movements of people who have tested positive via smartphones alerts.


Singapore adopted a different method to tackle the pandemic. People have imposed self-quarantine since the initial days of the outbreak. The ones required to isolate themselves are contacted multiple times a day to click an online link and share their phone’s location. With successful tracking of infected individuals, this proves to be an effective method.


Israel is set to use its ‘anti-terror’ technology to counter the virus. Cyber monitoring would be deployed to track individuals who tested positive in real-time through their mobile phones to catch breaches in quarantine.

Social Media in a Time of Social Distancing 

During a pandemic, there are two things we have to be vary of – the disease itself and the misinformation spread. When every notification is an update or speculation about the virus, it becomes difficult to filter out facts. They have the propensity to fuel fear and racism, but also give hope.

Along with concerns of rumours and fake news, there is also paucity of information and the issue of censorship by authoritarian governments. Both construct dangerous false narratives. Stringent responses are being taken for each situation, but with different intents:

To curb misinformation

To control what information goes out in the world

The World Health Organization (WHO) in a situation report dated 2nd February 2020, coined the mass of information as an infodemic.

To curb this peril, Google has scrubbed its searches to minimise misinformation. A search now triggers an SOS Alert with links from reputed news organizations. It also brings up a “Help and Information” section with resources from local governments and the WHO. Google also blocked thousands of ads capitalizing on the virus.

Facebook banned listings of medical face masks on its marketplace due to their exorbitant pricing.

YouTube removed a host of hoax videos and cure claims from their site. Ads have been removed from videos by verified accounts that are meant to inform and educate citizens.

On Chinese social media, information on COVID-19 is being tightly controlled. Censorship of content started from early stages of the virus outbreak. From personal accounts, warnings, criticism of the government and even officially sanctioned facts and information.

However, with the barrage of information shared by Chinese social media users, the government was pressured to put out more accurate numbers and official warnings.

Tech Disruptors adapting to a Disrupted Life

Established models are being evaluated. Empty shelves in stores implies that the supply chain is being tested. Panic influenced buying patterns point to extreme mathematical models which AI and the IT sector are trying to solve. With millions of people working from home, the strength of online platforms is being tested, productivity channels are being rewritten, and techniques reworked. Some tech companies are playing their role in easing us into this interim lifestyle:

Microsoft rolled out updates on Teams, making it available to companies for free for six months in an effort to help remote productivity, also licensing Office 365 E1 free for six months.

Zoho Corporation allowing its WFH tool ‘Remotely’ to be used for free till July

Cisco ‘s remote working tool ‘Webex’ can now be used for 90 days under its free license

Google is to roll out Advanced Hangouts Meet Conferencing to all G Suite customers for free

Edtech platform BYJU’S is letting students – grades 1-12, download and access the programs on their Learning App free till the end of April.

Online tutoring platform, Vedantu, has made its learning platform free for all students, teachers, and schools.

Here’s hoping dystopia remains just a popular Netflix genre and we emerge from this crisis with a lifetime of lessons. Don’t forget to wash your hands.

About the author: Ankit is a tech-enthusiast and co-founder of Signzy, a RegTech start-up that offers AI-led digital onboarding solutions to Banks, NBFC’S and Financial institutions.

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