As the pandemic rages on in Europe and elsewhere, the same spirit of technology-led problem solving has to prevail.

Ever since Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was declared a pandemic (i.e., a disease that has spread all over the world, according to the World Health Organization) business entities worth billions of dollars have either suspended activities or have been disrupted by the virus.

In spite of this, China’s use of technology is coming to the forefront little by little, providing solutions and facilitating the continuity of services.


From practical to broader concerns

One of the primary and immediate concerns when the virus became widespread was to obtain a supply of face masks. There was a time, however, when it was reported that there was a worldwide scarcity of these protective shields. In China, where the government required citizens to wear face masks in public, the social media app WeChat was instrumental in helping to connect the Chinese to governmental and commercial Mini Programs that would enable them to obtain said masks. Those Mini Programs also helped to connect unemployed persons with available work offered by such companies as Lens Technology, BYD, and Zoomlion.

In any virus outbreak, the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) category can be seriously affected. When health concerns prevent employees from focusing at work, business slows down to a halt. With the option of telecommuting, however, whereby employees can work at home and stay connected with their bosses through available digital tools, the slowdown became more tolerable for both proprietors and workers.

Start-ups rising to the challenge during a time of crisis

Forrester, the research and analytics company, offered some insights as to how some start-ups in computer vision (a system that extracts information from images) have helped during the outbreak:

  • Using thermal cameras to measuring each person’s body temperature at public places like malls. Monitoring of body temperatures, initially done only at airports and similar infrastructure, is now being done even in malls. When this was first done in a shopping center, it was met with some cynicism by customers. One shopper tried to wave the monitoring gadget away from his face, but the security guard persisted. The purpose of the procedure is to determine if a person has a temperature above 37.5˚C. There was some concern that personnel would risk infection from a person having such a high temperature, but that has been addressed by start-ups SenseTime, Megvii, and DeepGlint. As well, the system that these companies developed has been upgraded to enable personnel to monitor 300 people per minute.
  • Using AI to track a person not wearing a mask or wearing a mask incorrectly. As mentioned, the Chinese government has made it mandatory for citizens to wear face masks in public. Part of that decree is that these must be worn correctly. In response to the order, Baidu, a multinational tech company offering internet-related services and AI, released an AI solution that could detect non-compliance.
  • Using AI to help doctors analyse imaging scans. You need computed tomography (CT scans to diagnose infections, but one scan can have hundreds of images. Multiply those images by the number of patients requiring CT scans and you would have an overworked doctor burdened with analyzing millions of CT images per day. Tech company Yitu promptly supplied a system that would relieve doctors of the visual duties. Ultimately, the company’s system now being used in no fewer than four hospitals in China.

China has proven that it has the available technology and the wherewithal to deploy it quickly to solve urgent problems. Let us hope the same positive results can be replicated in other countries.