While mainland China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have business as usual in their sights, these Asian countries, notes The Economist, face the same challenge – namely that of how to limit the “all-but-inevitable rise in cases that will follow when they relax current controls”.
In the briefing “The pandemic and the state” (28 March), the newspaper reports on how locked- down households and businesses are using technology “in all sorts of quotidian ways, from video conferencing to team working”. This provides, it adds, “a network of sensors that can co-ordinate the response of both individuals and whole populations to a degree unimaginable in any previous pandemic”.
But given the prospect of extended lockdowns, adoption of data-yielding apps to solve the containment problem seems to be catching on. Since the independent decisions of individuals is the key to sustained containment, it’s important to provide reliable information on which they can base those decisions, explain the authors of the Deutsche Bank report, Asia Notes: How Asia fights the virus (24 March).
They explain how the three-week delay in providing such data in China “cost the government a lot of credibility and it certainly allowed hundreds if not thousands of people to become infected that might not otherwise have been”. However, “they soon made up for it by releasing detailed information about cases – especially outside Hubei where the numbers are lower.”
The analysts explain how tracing contacts from Wuhan at one point had the Chinese government deploying 1,800 teams of more than five people each following up on tens of thousands of contacts every day. Quickly, this was supported by data from telecom companies and software providers. Geolocation data was used – and made available to the authorities – to assist in identifying people’s travel histories. This was further supplemented with information on recent bus, plane or train ticket purchase and seat locations relative to travellers with confirmed cases.
The South Korean government also includes credit card usage information and requires people arriving from abroad to download an app onto their phones which they use to monitor their health and location. This can also be used to identify people who have violated quarantine.
Information technology has, to a certain extent, offered a solution with governments partnering with private sector providers. It provides the means of disseminating the information about the risks of infection to individuals, who can then choose for themselves how much distance to keep from others.
While the authorities in Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan have published daily updates since early January on confirmed infections, treatments and deaths, the case numbers are much smaller and this makes it possible to provide much more information. Each case is described with detailed locations, identifiers (not names, of course but often places of residence), and travel history and, where known, how they relate to other cases. The data is uploaded onto government websites with places of residence located on maps so that people can assess their own risk of infection.