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How is tech being used to combat COVID-19?

Utilising digital technology will be vital to combating the spread of COVID-19—whether enabling employees to work remotely, or utilising AI and data to track and...

As COVID-19—better known as coronavirus—continues to spread within the UK and across the world, the role that digital technology will play in combating the disease is coming into clearer focus. techUK has previously discussed the Government’s plans to contain or delay the outbreak, but this insight looks at how tech can help the public and professionals track, contain, or delay the spread of the disease.

Tracking the Spread of the Virus:

We are seeing Governments worldwide using digital tools to help them track the spread of COVID-19. Artificial intelligence and data visualisations are helping researchers, clinicians, and governments to trace the spread of the virus and to try to predict where new clusters may appear next. Similar methodology—utilising digital technology and crowdsourced data—has been used in the past to effectively map outbreaks, including swine flu and ebola.

Tech platforms can also be vital to educating people and sharing up-to-date information. Online tools and chatbots have been deployed to help answer basic questions from members of the public and provide guidance on next steps. Other telehealth tools have been utilised, with doctors encouraged to do more consultations over video. This is crucial because it can potentially help reduce the number of face-to-face interactions, aid in self-isolation efforts, and help contain the spread of COVID-19.

These methods have once again highlighted how important it is to tackle digital exclusion. Those who lack basic digital skills will be locked-out of reaping the benefits of digital technologies compounding their vulnerabilities.

Self-Isolation & Remote Working:

Governments around the world continue to recommend self-isolation for those who have travelled to affected areas or who may have had close contact with an infected person. As a result, remote working has surged in popularity. In response to growing numbers of remote workers, several makers of video conferencing software have rolled out free access to their products. Cybersecurity will be a key concern for firms as more of their employees work remotely and are not connected to secured workplace networks, and it will be critical to ensure that solutions are sufficiently vetted.

Conference cancellations have also begun to add up and there has been discussion around how to utilise digital collaboration solutions, whether video conferencing or more cutting-edge options like augmented reality (AR), or virtual reality (VR) to continue to allow large groups of people to gather to collaborate and share information. In our highly globalised and interconnected world it is vital for business continuity that these conversations continue to happen.

These tech solutions have implications beyond remote working, as they could be deployed to more easily enable students to continue their education as school and university closures grow more widespread. If more people of all ages grow more familiar with these tools and see first-hand their potential value, a long-term effect of COVID-19 could be a paradigm shift in how we approach telehealth, flexible working, and online education.

Supply Chain Issues:

The outbreak of COVID-19 has had a significant impact on supply chains across the world, but no industry has been more affected than the tech sector. The manufacturing capacity of China, South Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia are vital to the tech sector, with much of the world’s consumer technology made there. Those regions have also borne the brunt of the virus’ effects. This may cause product delays and shortages, as well as disruptions to firms’ earning reports.

The outbreak of coronavirus represents an opportunity for firms to re-evaluate their supply chains, a process that many had already begun with the trade uncertainties over the past few years. It may be that a long-term knock-on effect of the outbreak is a diversification of supply chains and manufacturing capacity, away from China and Asia, providing an opportunity for some manufacturing to potentially return to the UK and further the levelling up agenda. Onshoring and reshoring had a bit of a moment a few years ago. Could we see it return to discussion circles again?


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