Though we are now hopefully over the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading experts warn that we are likely to face similar threats in the future. Throughout 2020, while health workers, cleaners and supermarket staff – among others – have been on the frontline, technology has been working in the background to support these efforts and help control the impact of the coronavirus.
Data shows that countries with wider internet access and safer servers tend to be more resilient to epidemics, so we know that technology can be instrumental in the way a country is affected. Our previous article explored the ways that tech can help to support reliable and accurate communications, but it can also aid a vital part of the fight: preventing the spread.
From the outset of the pandemic, countries and organisations have used AI-based data analytics and predictive modelling to help understand how the virus spreads, as well as medication and treatment. AI platforms make it easier for researchers to find and share relevant studies that can provide new insight, helping them to understand methods that have been effective in controlling the spread of the disease. AI tools can also determine whether a patient is likely to have COVID-19 or symptoms caused by a similar illness, such as the common cold or flu. This helps determine where to focus testing efforts – a precious resource in preventing the spread of the pandemic.
In China, tech company Baidu has built an AI-based solution which can effectively screen large populations, searching for a change in individual’s body temperature while they go about their day-to-day life. The system examines approximately 200 people per minute, causing them no disruption, and identifying infected persons quickly and efficiently, before they can pass the illness to others.
AI has also proved important in South Korea, where widespread testing has helped to limit the impact of the virus. The country’s JLK inspection has developed an all-in-one medical platform, AiHub, for disease diagnosis – in particular, it has been used to examine a patient’s lungs within seconds. The company has also produced an AI-based hand-held chest X-ray camera which is able to scan the chest in three seconds and produce a heatmap visualisation of any abnormalities. Widespread testing is thought to have a dramatic impact upon a country’s success in limiting cases.
Combining diagnosis tools with facial recognition software helps to track infected individuals, who can then isolate rather than spreading the disease further. Facial recognition technologies developed in China can accurately identify people even if they are wearing a face covering.
This also helps to enforce lockdown restrictions and isolation orders, as those who have been asked to quarantine know they will be being monitored. Primarily, however, facial recognition works to identify people who don’t know they are infected and tracks the people they may have come into contact with, to prevent further spread of the virus.
Though not yet widely used in the UK, temperature checks have become commonplace around the world. This is particularly useful at border crossings and airports, helping countries to avoid new outbreaks by limiting the travel of infected persons.
Temperature monitoring has also been helpful in aiding countries to return to “normal”. If a person is able to pass a temperature check, they are much less likely to have the virus, adding an extra safety net for restaurants, hotels, offices and shops.
The checks can be performed on individuals or can measure large groups from a distance, identifying those who may require further checks. Combining automated thermal monitoring with facial recognition makes this a more efficient and effective process.
The way in which tech businesses have reacted to the coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly leave us better prepared for a second wave, or any future virus outbreaks. By using technology to our advantage, we can ensure that the impact of future pandemics will be much less devastating.