How Technology Is Helping China Deal With the Coronavirus Crisis

Robots, drones and supercomputers have joined the fight.
Mumbai, India
February 25, 2020, 11:30am
How Technology Is Helping China Deal With the Coronavirus Crisis
A staff member operates a robot to disinfect streets at the Robot Town in Hangzhou in China's eastern Zhejiang province on February 25, 2020. Photo: STR / AFP

The most difficult part of dealing with the deadly coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 80,000 people and left over 2,600 people dead, is containing the highly contagious virus. Spreading quickly through human contact, even speculated to do so before the symptoms actually show up, the coronavirus outbreak has left entire countries quarantined, generally for a period of up to 14 days. But even as countries like China are forcibly cut off from interacting with the rest of the world, technology is stepping in as a substitute.

Unlike previous public health crises like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus or the highly contagious H1N1 virus, this time around, technological advancement is taking the reins. Especially since it has been at loggerheads with the US over trade tensions, China has had to effectively develop its innovation industry to stay self-sufficient. Now, these same gadgets, servers and supercomputers are being used in the battle against coronavirus. Here are all the ways technology is helping China cope with the coronavirus crisis.

Medical robots

Most hospitals across China, especially in Wuhan, are overflowing with patients. So, medical robots that move around the hospital, serve food and medication to patients, and spray disinfectant across different rooms have been a breakthrough in reducing the risk of human contact. Shenzhen-based robotics company Pudu Technology has already installed robots in over 40 hospitals around the country, while startups like Shanghai TMIRob have also been tasked with putting dozens of robots on hospital duty.

Supercomputers to research a cure

This month, Tencent (TCEHY)—known popularly as the parent company of PUBG—opened up its supercomputing facilities. These machines can run calculations way faster than an ordinary computer and are an asset for participating research agencies, given the urgency of finding a cure.

Online medical consultations

Sophisticated medical consultation apps that allow a patient to get an online consult in case of doubt are a safer option. This is effective since it examines whether a patient is showing symptoms while reducing the risk of cross-infection, which could happen if the patient were to rush to the hospital.

Last week, China’s State Council decided to launch a coronavirus app that alerts people if anyone reported to be infected is near them. The app draws on public transport records, including trains and flights, since customers have to put in their their national identification number to book a seat.

Even users on WeChat, China’s popular online chat service, are watching medical-related mini videos way more than they have in the past, with these videos garnering more than 347 percent of the average views. These not only provide a reassuring option to potential patients, but also digitise the preventative process.

Drones and facial recognition

While drones with facial recognition technology have been used to monitor any kind of criminal activity out on the streets of China, they are now being used to identify people who aren’t wearing protective face masks. While this is raising many eyebrows given China’s reputation as a surveillance state, these drones are also being used as delivery services to cut out the middleman. The facial recognition technology allows these drones to spot whether there is a potentially infected person in the crowd that needs medical attention.

Distraction action

Stuck inside their homes, Chinese citizens are resorting to online platforms to resume some sense of normalcy. This not only means that they are entertaining themselves with online parties, but also using the internet to educate themselves through online tutorials. According to data by analytics expert Questmobile, the number of people watching online videos and using internet-based education apps has increased 24.3 million and 23.8 million per day respectively, while apps designed to improve working efficiency have gained nearly 40 million more daily active users.

However, given how effective internet connectivity has been to deal with the coronavirus crisis, there’s also a darker side to it. Chinese authorities are using social media services like Weibo and Twitter to crack down against anyone trying to spread more information about how bad the coronavirus situation is, thus laying the grounds for free speech and human rights abuses.

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