Thursday, March 26th, 2020

Technology Joins the War against Coronavirus

Jonathan Blum

Coronavirus is trending but it’s definitely not a positive trend. It is affecting many people around the world. Its rapid propagation has caused many countries to suspend activities, close borders, and -in some of the worst cases- it has collapsed health systems.

COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that presumably originated in a seafood market in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei in China. Since its discovery, thousands of confirmed cases and deaths have been reported worldwide, leading the World Health Organization to declare this new coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11. Despite this, it is important to clarify its mortality rate is low.

Its symptoms are very similar to the common cold (fever, runny nose, cough, sore throat, and headache) and can last a couple of days. Problems begin when the virus passes from the trachea to the lungs, causing serious complications such as pneumonia or bronchitis. People with compromised or weak immune systems, such as the elderly or those with chronic illnesses, are at a heightened risk.

The main challenge is that it is highly contagious. The virus spreads from one person to another when they come into contact with the secretions of an infected person (saliva or mucus), or when they touch their eyes, nose or mouth after touching something an infected person has also touched. This is why isolation is so important.

Some Latin American countries are attempting to contain the virus by suspending activities. Others, such as Spain, Italy, and China, are already on red alert. The speed with which the number of cases increases is overwhelming, forcing them to stop everything and leaving people now confined to their homes or awaiting hospital treatment. To respond to the urging situation, these countries are now looking for tech-enabled solutions and preventive measures.

A number of tech companies have joined forces with doctors, academics, and government entities from around the world to develop and mobilize the technology needed to contain the virus and offer solutions to the infected.

These are some of the results of their efforts:

1.     AI (Artificial Intelligence) for tracking and forecasting outbreaks

The Canadian infectious disease surveillance company, BlueDot, developed “an AI system capable of analyzing news reports, social media platforms, and government documents to learn how to detect an outbreak.”

2.     AI for diagnosing the virus

Thanks to the work of a group of scientists and engineers, the Beijing-based startup Infervision created an AI solution designed to help doctors more efficiently detect and control the virus. The solution aims to speed up the diagnosis of CT scans and cut waiting times for results, thus helping to reduce the possibility of contamination in hospitals.

3.     Drones to combat the virus and deliver medical supplies

Isolation is crucial for preventing spread and drones are now being used to quickly and safely obtain and deliver medical supplies. They are also patrolling public spaces and using thermal imaging to identify those who are failing to comply with the quarantine.

4.     Sterilization and delivery robots

These are being used to perform sanitary tasks such as cleaning and sterilizing, as well as delivering food and medicine. UVD robots, created by Blue Ocean Robotics, use ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and viruses. Pudu Technology’s robots, on the other hand, support medical staff with treating patients.

5.     Medicine and drug development

Google’s DeepMind Technologies is using AI to identify virus proteins and offer doctors ways to treat the illness and personalize medications. By predicting the virus’ behavior, they can suggest medicines that may be useful during treatment.

6.     Supercomputers search for a vaccine

Thanks to the speed with which they can process data and make calculations, supercomputers accelerate the development of a cure or vaccine for the virus.

As a global population, we are undoubtedly experiencing difficult times and the best thing we can do is follow the indications that safeguard our health and that of those around us. I’m sure that technological advances and good judgment will help us overcome this as soon as possible.