How Technology Is Helping in the Fight Against Coronavirus
Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Drones and Robots
At the time of writing, 69,287 Coronavirus confirmed cases and 1,670 total deaths (source: John Hopkins University) have been reported. The spread of Coronavirus is showing no sign of ending soon. In addition to China, confirmed cases have been reported in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Thailand, Macau, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, France, South Korea, UAE, Vietnam, Cambodia, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Finland, Sweden, Ivory Coast, Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal.
Currently, there is no vaccine to treat the Coronavirus. Scientists around the world are working day and night to find treatment. As Coronavirus continues to spread, top of mind priority is to contain the Coronavirus outbreak.
Tracking The Coronavirus Outbreaks With Artificial Intelligence And Big Data Analytics
Before the World Health Organization notified the public of a flu-like outbreak in China on January 9, BlueDot, a Canadian health monitoring company had already warned its clients of the outbreak on December 31. The company uses an AI (Artificial Intelligence)-driven algorithm that scraps foreign-language news reports, forums and blogs, and announcements from public health officials to give its customers early warning of possible outbreaks of Coronavirus in areas like Wuhan.
By analyzing global airline ticketing data, BlueDot correctly predicted that the virus would go from Wuhan to Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo in the days following its initial outbreak by monitoring where the infected residents are headed next.
AI surveillance tools such as BlueDots have been available in public health for more than a decade. For example, HealthMap, founded by a team of researchers, epidemiologists and software developers at Boston Children’s Hospital in 2006. Working with researchers from the University of Oxford, Harvard Medical School, Northeastern University, Oxford Martin School and Tsing Hua University, it delivers real-time updates on the spread of the Coronavirus.
While machine learning is very good at identifying patterns in the data, it still needs a lot of data to deliver close to real-time information for public health officials to monitor and respond to the crisis. The millions of posts about Coronavirus on social media and news sites are allowing algorithms to generate more accurate data to predict how far and how fast outbreaks will spread.
Artificial intelligence is not going to stop the new Coronavirus or replace the role of expert epidemiologists. But speed matters during an outbreak. As the Coronavirus is circulating, there’s community spread and we want to spot those outbreaks quickly and intervene to keep them small. AI surveillance is becoming a useful tool in efforts to monitor and respond to the global outbreak.
Robots Coming To The Rescue
In a new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it found that out of the 138 patients, 57 (41.3%) were presumed to have been infected in Zhongnan Hospital (located in Wuhan, China) including 17 patients (12.3%) who were already hospitalized for other reasons and 40 health care workers (29%). Download the report.
More than half of the initial infections that happened inside this hospital appear to have been spread within the hospital itself. Almost one-third of the patients are health care workers infected in the hospital, highlighting the difficulties of remaining safe while providing treatment to patients.
With a shortage of doctors and health care workers, it is becoming even more important to protect them from getting infected from the Coronavirus. The fewer people who are in contact with infected patients, the better. If it’s not essential for certain supporting staff to be in the patient areas, it’s best for them to avoid it.
Instead of having health care workers interacting directly with people suspected of having the virus, many of the tasks such as delivering food and medicine and disinfecting rooms can be delegated to robots. Both the China’s national health commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that the infection can spread from person-to-person, the use of the robot will minimize the exposure of medical staff to the infected patients.
Drones are now becoming essential tools in the fight against the new Coronavirus outbreak in China. People are using drones to carry out tasks like spraying disinfectant over villages, dispersing public gatherings and facilitating construction.
People across China are mounting disinfectant gears on their crop-spraying drones. Drones are being used in Chinese villages to spray disinfectant in response to Coronavirus throughout the village, making the village a little safer to walk around in.
Link to the video:
For small drones, local governments are mounting speakers on them to disperse public gatherings and scold those who aren’t wearing masks in public. Squadrons of drones are looking for people who’ve failed to obey quarantine curfews or are seen out in public without wearing a mask.
To contain the spread of the virus, drones are also used to monitor activities such as traffic and waste disposal. In Shanghai, drones have been deployed at inter-city roads for monitoring while officials check travelers’ temperatures. In Zhongshan, drones are used to oversee the disposal of medical waste coming out of hospitals.
Lighting drones also came in handy in Wuhan. Two large temporary hospitals had to be built in a matter of days as the city ran out of beds in the hospitals. Without the street lamps and construction lights at the site, six large lighting drones hover above the ground so that the construction workers can work 24 hours a day to get it completed in record time!
Can New And Mature Technologies Help Fight The Coronavirus
As the Coronavirus crisis is unfolding in China, we can see how the some of the new technologies will be helpful in the fight against infectious diseases in the future. Technology is helping to save lives. There’s has been a huge under-investment in healthcare technologies, so when new diseases emerge, like the deadly Coronavirus, it is difficult to contain the outbreaks.
Once the current crisis passes, it’s time for governments around the world to step up and invest in healthcare technologies! Hopefully, that’s not too far from now.