Current estimates indicate a likely rapid increase in Coronavirus cases in the coming months. In a recent commentary in Al Watan, Dr. Fatima Alsebaie discusses how governments should employ the latest technology to contain the spread of this pandemic.
Translation of Commentary
Saturday 18 April 2020
Using Health Data and Technology to Contain the COVID-19 Pandemic Post-Lockdown
Current estimates indicate an expected gradual surge in the number of Coronavirus infections in the upcoming weeks, reaching a peak next June in countries that observed lockdowns until the end of April. Implications of the crisis will not recede before September this year. Therefore, governments under this scenario should further their coordination efforts, and implement additional procedures over the next six months to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and contain it on a domestic level.
All these future expectations require utilizing data and information and communications technology (ICT) to handle the changes resulting from the potential increase in cases, and enhance measures to counter the pandemic in its upcoming phases. At present, governments in some countries, like Bahrain, China, and Australia, have taken actual steps in this direction, implementing a policy for mandatory and immediate registering of personal health data, and being subjected to electronic monitoring of movement for infected or suspected cases during home-quarantining, using mobile phones, quick response (QR) codes, and telecom operators; as measures to control domestic cases of Coronavirus outbreaks.
In the next phase, it is possible to benefit from a database of registered COVID-19 cases, particularly after lifting public lockdowns and the partial return to work and opening shops, to perform the necessary analyses and decision-making. This database can be used as evidence of a person’s health condition, showing a sign on the official data app to indicate health status, with an option to send data by email to help public and private organizations verify and ensure an employee or visitor is healthy, made contact with patients, or is cured. This method will enable government, commercial, industrial, and educational organizations take part in limiting the spread of the pandemic; confirm the possibility of infected individuals being on their premises; and do the required to provide necessary help.
Organizations with a large, densely-spaced workforce or number of visitors – such as major airports, shopping malls, hypermarkets, and large factories – can also participate in screening infected individuals within their perimeters, using available technologies according to their sizes and budgets. These include thermal cameras to remotely measure body temperature, electronic thermometers, or touch-based mobile applications.
These organizations can further help by donating such equipment in places with crucial gathering, such as schools, nurseries, and closed playgrounds; a step with continuous benefits in protecting public health and safety after the pandemic recedes.
Following such steps at present, and combining efforts by officials in the public and private sectors and society in contributing to limit the spread of the pandemic will strengthen preventative and control capabilities against it; easing the heavy burden on governments in the next phase, reducing society’s fears, and helping with the gradual restoration of economic, social, and general conditions back to normal.
Dr. Fatima Alsebaie, Analyst