Covid-19 is an infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus. At the moment, there are over 8 million confirmed cases globally. The virus that causes coronavirus disease is considered to be transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person exhales, sneezes, or coughs. Virus can also be contracted by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with same hands without disinfecting them. Symptoms range from mild to moderate and in some cases, severe and potentially fatal.
As cases rise steadily with each passing day, governments and medical authorities across the world are strengthening the fight against Covid-19 pandemic. The newly discovered coronavirus disease, just like the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918 and the Bubonic plague before it, has exposed human fragility. But unlike our ancestors, we are better equipped to fight Covid-19 thanks to advancements in technology.
Technologies Used in Fighting Covid-19
Technology is playing a big role in tracking the spread of coronavirus disease. Various types of technologies are being used in the fight against coronavirus pandemic. These include robotics, drones, and mobile technology. Robotics has been in the frontlines in the fight since the early days of the pandemic. We have seen robots being deployed to dispense food and hand sanitizer, spray disinfectants, and prepare meals in hospitals.
Robots are also being used to perform diagnosis and conduct thermal imaging in many hospitals. Wuchang Hospital in Wuhan, the epicentre of Covid-19, was being staffed entirely by robots. Drone technology came to the rescue in areas where people were at a high risk of being infected. Drones were used to transport human samples and medical equipment in severely affected areas. Drone technology also came in handy in spraying disinfectant in some parts of the world.
Mobile technology is also playing a huge role in the fight against the pandemic. We have seen smartphone apps and other digital technologies being deployed to help combat the spread of Covid-19. Governments and public health authorities have started developing apps to trace the spread of the virus. These apps help public health officials identify, assess, and manage people who have been exposed to the virus and prevent further transmission. This process is known as contact tracing.
Contact Tracing Apps
According to the World Health Organisation, contact tracing is “the process of identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent the transmission”. Contact tracing can significantly halt the spread of an infectious disease such as Covid-19 when applied methodically and is, therefore, a necessary public health tool when it comes to containing outbreaks. When someone tests positive for Covid-19, they must talk to a contact tracer and provide information about people they have been in close proximity with in the past few weeks.
Manual contact tracing requires hiring thousands of people to slow down the spread of the disease by finding and reporting new infections. Contact tracing apps make the process a whole lot easier. A contact tracing app automatically alerts the user if he/she has been in contact with a person who has tested positive for Covid-19. When a person using the app tests positive for Covid-19, they will use the app to notify people they have interacted with. These individuals will subsequently self-isolate, get tested, and seek medical attention if necessary.
Benefits of Contact Tracing Apps
Contact tracing apps automate the process of tracking the movement of Covid-19 patients and finding new infections. South Korea, Singapore, and Australia are some of the countries that are aggressively using contact tracing technology to combat the spread of coronavirus. Contact-tracing apps use Bluetooth technology to create a log of nearby devices or people using the application. Some apps are constantly broadcasting Bluetooth pings to find nearby devices.
South Korea’s contact tracing system also uses GPS to track locations and to ensure people don’t breach quarantine. The app sends an alert if people in quarantine leave designated areas. With contact tracing apps, governments don’t have to hire thousands of public health workers to reconstruct the movements of Covid-19 patients manually. Contact tracing apps can perform these tasks effortlessly, and authorities don’t have to spend an arm and a leg for it.
Contact tracing apps present authorities with a cheaper option when it comes to containing the spread of Covid-19. Most importantly, they are more effective. South Korea was battling the worst outbreak of Covid-19 outside China back in February. Now the country seems to have the virus under control — save for recent flare-ups linked to relaxed measures — all thanks to a combination of contact tracing technology and aggressive testing.
As we have seen in countries such as South Korea, Singapore, and China, contact tracing apps can be very effective in containing the spread of Covid-19. On the downside, using contact tracing technology to curb the spread of Covid-19 raises privacy concerns. A recent survey on American’s attitude towards contact-tracing apps found that despite concerns about potential data misuse, more than half of surveyed American adults are willing to voluntarily download a contact-tracing app for the good of the nation.
Covid-19 is even bringing American technology giants together. Apple and Google are in a joint effort to build an API that can be used in mass contact tracing. Despite the fact that people are showing a willingness to voluntarily download contact tracing apps, many are still worried that the government and private tech companies might overstep their bounds and misuse the data collected for contact tracing purposes. Some contact tracing apps may even collect unrelated or unnecessary personal data.
Covid-19 is the greatest challenge the world has faced since the Second World War. In the absence of a vaccine, we need to use every tool at our disposal, including technology, to contain the virus. But due to concerns about privacy, contact tracing technology will be hard to implement in countries such as the United States. But that does not mean it’s impossible. If we are going to contain the spread of this virus, we need to be able to leverage mobile technology. The million-dollar question is how we are going to do that while protecting individual rights and freedom.