Three ways that technology drove Asia’s response to COVID-19

  • Asian tech companies and their response was a big factor in reducing the impact of COVID-19
  • McKinsey reveals several key factors behind Asian tech’s rapid response

Despite having the largest ‘at-risk’ population with over 60 percent of the world’s 7.5 billion inhabitants residing within its boundaries, several countries on the Asian continent have been largely lauded for their effective response to the pandemic.

In its latest report, Global consultancy firm McKinsey & Co noted that companies and governments in Asia had relied on technological advancements that were accelerated or already in the pipeline to enhance protection for the public’s health and productivity.

There are several key areas in which technology played a major part to safeguard lives, businesses, and government administrations. Tech Wire Asia took a look over the main points:

# 1 | Tech-enabled contact tracing and testing

The digital transformation taking place across sectors – as well as high smartphone penetration – has made the gathering and analysis of data much more viable today than it would have been in any other time. Data gathered needs to be coupled with cooperation from the public and private sectors.

In South Korea, the authorities shared contact-tracing information with the public through apps such as Corona Map and Corona 100m so that people could avoid areas where they were more likely to become infected. Meanwhile, the government commissioned three private companies to produce mass testing kits to be deployed across 50 locations designated by the government within 17 days. This approach reduced testing times, allowing over 20,000 people to be tested per day, achieving a 98 percent accuracy rate.

The testing process was streamlined to be quicker, without people having to leave their cars which helped reduce contact.

Similarly, the government of Singapore launched an app called TraceTogether to track the locations of users and to alert them if they were near anyone known to be infected. By the start of April 2020, about one million people had installed the app on their smartphones.

The city-state also sent stay-at-home notices, enforced by GPS, requiring citizens to send photos of their surroundings to confirm their locations, while Hong Kong uses electronic wristbands and an accompanying smartphone app to ensure that arriving passengers stay at home.

# 2 | Sharing tech resources to extend healthcare capacity

One of the best outcomes from the pandemic thus far has been the sharing and pooling of technological resources to accelerate research and development (R&D) into emerging fields, which has helped alleviate the burden on hospitals and treatment facilities.

In Wuhan China, the original epicenter for the viral outbreak, engineers from IT firm Lenovo helped complete the installation of over 1,400 pieces of connected equipment in less than two weeks, to expand an existing hospital’s capacity. An online remote diagnosis center was also established in the city, with physicians from around the country offering remote treatments via high-speed 5G connections.

South Korea-based Seegene used AI-powered innovations to fast-track disease testing kits, while in Australia the government has decided to fund an expansion to remote telehealth services.

Telehealth services rose quickly in parts of Asia, including virus-stricken Wuhan, China.
Source: Shutterstock

To ensure continued access to essential primary health services during the pandemic, Australia’s government announced, in March 2020, that it would provide AU$669 million to expand telehealth services subsidized by Medicare.

Back in March, meanwhile, Jack Ma, former Alibaba executive chairman and co-founder, said, “We can’t beat this virus unless we share our resources, know-how and hard-earned lessons,” on the launch of the Global MediXchange for Combating COVID-19 (GMCC), a platform for collaboration, knowledge- and data-sharing for COVID-19 research efforts.

Alibaba itself made its computational platforms and resources available to 20 research groups so far, to accelerate data-heavy drug development and vaccine discovery, as well as supporting public health development efforts – efforts that have had a tangible impact.

# 3 | Fully embracing digitization

Many governments in Asia and beyond have ordered the temporary closure of stores and offices. The remote delivery of services, from groceries to education to finance, became the norm. Asian technology companies have enabled this switch by offering deeper, wider digital services

Like much of the rest of the world, governments across Asia ordered the closure of stores and offices in order to mitigate the spread of the outbreak. But, with 2 billion or half of the world’s internet users, Asia’s digital infrastructure made the demands of the lockdown less severe on citizens, many of which could take their work home, and continue to acquire the goods and services they needed and, in turn, continue to support their countries’ economies.

Many companies who played an instrumental role in a newly-digitized economy took the opportunity to offer their tools for free, which helped industries continue to tick over. It was also a shrewd move for vendors, helping to retain and onboard new customers, as well as putting their firms in a charitable light.

Those companies included the likes of Google, with its Meet videoconferencing tool, among a raft of cybersecurity, e-commerce and supply chain tech solutions, while Atlassian made its Trello Business Class free for one year to help teachers deliver education remotely.

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