High-speed mass connectivity and remote data-processing capability is proving crucial to fighting Covid-19, but also to supporting people during the lengthy lockdown phase of the battle against the virus.
The essential challenge of the Covid-19 outbreak is managing its threat to human life and its impact on national health-care systems. In facing up to this, any technology that can alleviate the burden of testing, contact tracing and social isolation is precious. Here, 5G technology is proving invaluable.
To take on and overcome this most difficult of human challenges, gathering and understanding information is one of the most powerful weapons we have. We need to be able to source information and analyse it as efficiently as possible. Besides being a health-care problem, the coronavirus pandemic is therefore also a data issue.
The advances in 5G (fifth-generation wireless communication technology) are enhancing these efficiencies, but also the safety of the incomparably brave health workers who are going out into the field to test people and relay data back to labs and information hubs where responses can be planned.
In China, the first country to face the full force of the pandemic, data scientists came on board to provide the fast, seamless connectivity needed to get information from its source to where it can do the most good.
The 5G technology that the country was already rolling out at scale proved indispensable in this regard. It enabled health policymakers to understand where the country stood in real time, and then to make the interventions needed to slow the spread of the disease and begin reducing its impact.
Unimaginable until recently
5G also enabled capabilities that would have been unimaginable until recently – contactless temperature testing, continuous remote monitoring during patient transfer, thermal-imaging contagion monitoring and other functions. Telecommunications company Huawei even collaborated to rapidly set up a specific 5G network dedicated to Covid-19 treatment hospitals.
Huawei also deployed a 5G network in Wuhan’s Huoshenshan hospital, famously built in only 10 days to accommodate a rapid rise in infections. The 5G network allowed the hospital to carry out day-to-day functions as well as digital services crucial to dealing with the outbreak, such as data collection, remote diagnosis and remote monitoring. Other hospitals also received guaranteed high-speed 5G Internet access.
“We aren’t at the frontlines; we aren’t taking the risks that many people are. But ICT still has a role to play,” said Huawei chief marketing officer Kevin Zhang. “At a basic level, digital connectivity is helping to make the management and containment of the virus more efficient.”
People who are self-isolating need to be fed and their health needs to be monitored, and they need to be provided with medical supplies. Data must be collected and processed in real time to coordinate support efforts for the home-bound population.
This data gathering must also be done in a way that protects the right to privacy. To address these concerns, China’s Cyberspace Administration issued a circular emphasising that personal data collected for preventing epidemic diseases cannot be used for any other purposes.
Another key 5G contribution is managing the logistics of feeding and caring for the millions of people quarantined at home during the coronavirus lockdowns so important to stopping the spread of the disease.
“Apps and network connectivity ensured that food supplies reach the homes of hundreds of millions of home-bound Chinese each day,” said Zhang. “Information about the condition and receiving guidance on handling the virus are digitalised in a way that we’ve never seen before.”
To mitigate the enormous economic effects of the virus and the lockdown, 5G’s mass, high-speed connectivity is also proving useful in helping businesses stay open, and for restaurants to fulfil food orders to people in their homes.
In Shenzhen, where numerous restaurants, shops, businesses and schools were closed, people turned to delivery apps to fulfil their food needs.
To support these millions of transactions, Huawei provided free cloud services to SMEs in China. Its WeLink platform supports instant messaging, electronic whiteboards for remote collaboration, and mobile approval processes. SMEs can open free video-conferencing accounts and run real-time online meetings.
For millions of home-bound students, the Learn Anytime Education Alliance has been able to provide online teaching and learning services for primary and secondary schools, training centres and higher education. WeLink is also currently serving more than 10 000 healthcare centres, hospitals, government departments, and schools and training centres.
As school closures and lockdowns become the new normal across the world, communities are increasingly relying on high-speed connectivity to bind them together. In many cases, ICT networks support the fight against the coronavirus, but also the network of human society itself.
We may not touch each other, but thanks to technology, we may be more in touch than ever.
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