2020 is the year of the global pandemic. With cases surging worldwide, the sheer scale involved in collection and sharing data is monumental. Those countries that have been most successful in battling COVID-19 have relied on digital technology to help flatten the curve, a strategy that is being utilized in surveillance, testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and health care.
With no vaccine readily available and high rates of transmission, we have been forced to rely on containment and mitigation in order to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Success has been mixed, with some countries faring much better than others.
Digital health technology has been a boon for countries such as South Korea, who have used digital technology as part of their government-led response. Statistics bear out how well this implementation has worked: COVID-19 deaths in South Korea are 0.5 per 100,000 people. The U.S., in comparison, is experiencing ten times the number of deaths per capita.
Those countries that have embraced technology to assist in the battle against the coronavirus have used it in the following ways:
- Planning and tracking. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been at the forefront in helping to track the spread of COVID-19. Migration maps, mobile payment apps, and social media have all been used to collect data on the location of people—a crucial step that allows health care facilities to gather real-time data about travel histories. Taiwan was able to stave off large outbreaks despite its proximity to Wuhan, China, by utilizing this data; in Sweden, authorities were able to plan for surges and increase hospital bed capacity, personal protective equipment, and staffing based on data. AI isn’t foolproof and some of the predictive models aren’t entirely accurate, but human intervention can help filter data for important trends.
- Screening for infection. Web- and cloud-based screening tools, infrared thermal cameras, and regular temperature measurements have all been used in various countries to help identify and track hot spots and infection clusters. Iceland has even taken things a step farther and is conducting widespread testing of asymptomatic individuals, relying on mobile technology to provide information on the virus’s spread. Germany and South Korea have also been praised for widespread testing.
- Contact tracing. Much of South Korea’s success can be attributed to contact tracing. The country has aggressively pursued the use of security camera footage, facial recognition technology, bank cards records, and GPS data from mobile phones and vehicles to provide data on the movements of people. Emergency text alerts are also broadcast to give individuals information about new outbreaks in their local areas.
- Quarantine and self-isolation. Several countries are relying on digital technology in their quarantine efforts. QR codes, AI-powered surveillance cameras, drone-mounted cameras, digital recorders, government-issued mobile phones and wristbands are all helping to alert authorities to quarantine infractions, allowing them to take swift action.
Digital technology isn’t perfect, but it’s clear that those countries who have had the most success battling COVID-19 consider it an important tool in their arsenal when it comes to containment and mitigation.