The rapid spread of Covid-19 has forced countries to use every trick in the book to contain the disease. Some countries, like South Korea and Singapore, have done a better job than, say, Italy and Spain.
Asian countries have used a range of technologies in their fight against the pandemic, raising questions about excessive surveillance and the violation of citizens’ privacy. Here is a snapshot of some of the tech tools being deployed in different countries
Possibly the most commonly used technology by governments, tracking people’s whereabouts through the location information provided by their phones has been crucial to identifying where an infected person went before being quarantined and how many people were in close proximity to the patient. Israel has allowed its internal security agency the use of its citizens’ location data for 30 days. South Korea, China and Taiwan have also used location-tracking widely to limit the transmission of the virus. However, in Europe, which has stricter laws on data protection, Germany and Italy are using anonymised location data to identify public spaces where people are gathering in groups by defying lockdowns.
A startup in the UK recently launched an app for people to self-report their symptoms. C-19 Covid Symptom Tracker, which was downloaded 7.5 lakh times in three days, helps identify high-risk areas, among other things. South Korea has an app called Corona 100m that has mapped the locations of Covid-19 patients and alerts users if they come within 100 meters of an infected person.
India is also set to launch an app that will tell users if they came in contact with someone who later tested positive for Covid-19, as reported by ET on March 26. The app will be based on location data obtained from the infected person’s smartphone. It will also use short-distance Bluetooth signals between phones, like Singapore’s TraceTogether app, which helps authorities trace contacts of a patient.
In China, apps developed by Alibaba and Ten cent give people a colour code based on their health condition and travel history. This code, decided by a big data-driven algorithm, will determine whether a person gains entry into a mall or a subway station, or can travel between cities.
When a family of three in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district tested positive for Covid-19 after returning from Italy, local authorities realised the family had visited several places and met many people for a week before they were quarantined. Reviewing CCTV footage from the areas they had been to was one of the methods the local administration used to track down 900 people the family could have potentially infected. South Korea and Singapore, too, have used CCTVs extensively in contact-tracing.
In an effort to enable contactless and rapid temperature detection, China is using AI-powered thermal cameras to identify those in a crowd who have a fever. The country is also deploying facial-recognition systems to identify those not wearing masks.
In early March, a new isolation ward was opened in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the corona virus outbreak started. What’s interesting about this ward is that it is entirely manned by robots that take patients’ temperature, give them food and drugs, and disinfect the ward. China has also used robots in quarantine facilities, and so has Singapore to clean hospitals. The use of robots spares healthcare workers the risk of contracting the virus. In some parts of China, the police have used drones fitted with cameras and loudspeakers to disperse crowds and direct individuals in the streets to return home.