Can technology save people during the Coronavirus pandemic?

by Akmaral Abdiyeva

Roughly one hundred years ago humanity was facing a similar Public Health Emergency to Covid-19 – the Spanish Flu N1H1 pandemic of 1918. The flu had infected around a third of the world’s population with the death toll totalling between 17 and 50 million people after a year.

Thankfully, the numbers of Covid-19 to date are proportionately not as devastating as the Spanish Flu. This is due in part to both the medical advancements achieved in the past century that are helping us survive the pandemic, but also our drastic technological advancements.

Not only is our world’s digitisation helping us to stay sane in our Groundhog Day routines, but it’s making it possible for most of us to resume our normal schedules while keeping safe through social distancing measures.

Imagine going back in time to tell someone living during the Spanish flu pandemic that in exactly 100 years’ time people would be experiencing an almost identical crisis, but humanity would be able to resume their normal life almost seamlessly.

They could get ready-made food and groceries delivered any time they want, continue to consume any informational and recreational content from the comfort of their home, and talk to anyone in the world just by clicking a few buttons.

It would seem unbelievable. These actions have only been made possible due to technological breakthroughs and discoveries that have occurred over the past few decades. Not only have they made our life more comfortable, they have enabled essential safety measures which have helped save lives.

Below are a number of examples that demonstrate how technology is helping us maintain our new “normal” life.

Contactless delivery

This new mode of transport has been a buzz word for the past few months and are one of the key milestones that are contributing to the flattening of the curve.

Both manual contactless delivery – i.e. couriers dropping things in a safe place for the recipient to pick it up – and the heavy utilisation of drones and robots to perform deliveries are allowing us to continue shopping for luxury and everyday items during this pandemic.

In England, Milton Keynes, robots are being produced and deployed to deliver essential supplies to medical staff.

Southampton and the Isle of Wight in particular are heavily dependent on this service to keep up with demand for medical products, and other remote places are currently preparing to introduce such methods.

Many other countries around the globe like Sweden, Estonia, Italy, China, Ghana, South Korea, the US, and many others are also now using drones and robots, with a special focus on aiding elderly people to have access to medical products during self-isolation.

Despite the widespread introduced of contactless methods of delivery being initiated by the Covid-19 pandemic, this event will likely spur on development and improvement of the services and their introduction into normal behaviour after the crisis.

Contactless Payments

It’s not just the supply chain that is edging towards contactless – although it existed before the pandemic, contactless monetary transactions are also becoming increasingly expected. These days a lot of public spaces are not accepting cash, instead entirely switching their preference towards contactless card and mobile payments.

This may not seem like a drastic change to some, but there are still 1.7 billion people in the world who have no access to any type of banking infrastructure. Enabling widespread contactless payments would therefore require significant industry growth and the provision of accessible technology to those without it.

Encouraging less cash and more contactless payments is a critical way to battle the spread of the virus and reduce people’s chances of getting sick.

Mental well-being

Mental health has been a prevalent subject during the lockdown and self-isolation. Before Coronavirus, approximately one in four people in the UK were suffering from mental health issues at least once a year – the quarantine is highly likely to worsen this statistic.

The NHS gives these five tips for people to try and help their mental well-being:

  • Connect with people
  • Learn new skills
  • Exercise
  • Be mindful
  • Give to othersLuckily in the age of technology, doing all of the above has never been easier. There are hundreds of platforms available where people can talk to and see their loved ones, learn new skills or hobbies, earn certifications and qualifications, exercise with a personal trainer, meditate, participate in crowdfunding activities, and so much more.

    While looking after our mental health is never a straightforward task – there is now a plethora of tech tools to choose from that may help.

    Working and socialising from home

    We are not yet able to judge the full impact of working from home on businesses, industries, and the economy in general, but from what we’ve seen many companies are embracing technology to adapt and support this arrangement.

    Meetings and gatherings that once seemed impossible to conduct online – from team lunches to happy hours – are now seamlessly being held virtually thanks to a variety of web-conferencing tools, allowing us to keep connecting with our colleagues.

    On top of that, 2.4 million people in the UK are suffering from loneliness every day, according to the Office for National Statistics. Having the option to communicate with co-workers, friends and family helps many people’s mental health by maintaining some form of human interaction each day.

    Opportunities and innovation

    Even during such unprecedented disruption in the supply chain new opportunities can be found for those who seek. A trend to closely monitor at the moment is 3D printing.

    This industry, that was worth $12 billion in 2019, keeps growing despite the pandemic at the expected rate of 14% a year and is being heavily utilised to meet current medical demands; creating products ranging from face shields, and sanitiser bottles, to medical equipment.

    Singapore’s robot dog, Spot, recently went viral in news streams and social media, demonstrating once again how innovation can be used for the good of humanity. The famous dog is walking around patrolling Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park during the period of two weeks set as a trial to control social distancing measures.

    At the same time Belgium has placed 60 Robots named Sara in care homes to entertain the elderly during the period of social distancing. The robots were described by users as “warm”, “caring” and “friendly”, leading to residents of the care centres addressing the robots as humans on some occasions. The use of robotics has always been a matter of dispute, but the experiments mentioned above are a clear example of uses that benefit society.

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    Health Tech

    Some countries have already introduced wearable devices that track the interactions between people and places. This has been a subject of conflict, regarding the ownership of the data and people’s privacy. South Korea and Hong Kong have already introduced such devices, whereas other countries like India, Belgium, and Lichtenstein are preparing for scaling out.

    UK’s NHS tracing app has gone through testing with RAF, simulating normal human behaviour while shopping. The Health Secretary stated that the trials are going well and promised “world-class” security where anonymity is guaranteed.

    With these measures in place, this app would allow users to track their interactions and be notified if they’ve been in contact with someone who’s been tested positive for Covid-19, so they can self-isolate and reduce the risk for others.

    Nevertheless, it is crucial to remember that despite the positive impacts that innovative technological advancements inspired by lockdown have made, they are no substitute for traditional human interactions – the human touch, a handshake, a hug, or holding hands.

    But while we are physically limited to do so, society’s mission is to make technology work for rather than against us. All of the above are brilliant examples of how much amazing progress humanity has made in the past century, and that technology indeed can help us survive and tackle this pandemic.

By Akmaral Abdiyeva