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Humanity faced pandemics previously. One can recall the Spanish flu epidemic that took place a hundred years ago, or the Black Death, which killed half of Europe’s population in the Middle Ages. But what distinguishes the coronavirus pandemic?
The COVID-19 crisis is caused by both the epidemic itself and the global lockdown. Today, economic forecasts are extremely disappointing. With a favorable course of events, developed countries will be able to overcome the crisis in the second quarter of 2021. And the recovery of developing countries will take a longer period. However, this epidemic occurred in the era of technological progress, and many believe that it can help to overcome the crisis faster. It may seem surprising, but a lot of focus is now put on mobile solutions.
Along with coronavirus-specific mobile solutions, there’s a demand for other types of apps. Obviously, when such a huge number of people are locked at home, the use of mobile applications goes up. Specifically, these are:
There’s one more category of mobile solutions. They help governments, entrepreneurs, doctors, and ordinary people in the war against the virus.
This task is challenging in terms of implementation, and controversial in terms of ethics. The process of finding people with whom the patient contacted in the last 14 days is complex. However, thanks to smartphones, this task becomes quite feasible.
Recently, Google and Apple have announced that they are joining forces to develop such a solution for Android and iOS. Contact tracking will be carried out via Bluetooth connection. Thus, as soon as it becomes known that a person is sick, the application will have a ready list of devices that were in proximity for the past 14 days. The next step is to send a push notification to all these devices informing about the risk of infection.
This method is much better than relying on the patient's good memory. However, there are obvious disadvantages too. A smartphone can detect another device via Bluetooth at a distance of up to 10 meters. A person with the detected device can even be in a different building, which reduces the chances of infection to zero.
One way or another, when companies such as Apple and Google take on the case, it becomes obvious that a working solution will be created quickly.
GPS location tracking is available on all smartphones. And this can be used effectively to verify that a person is in self-isolation. The government of South Korea has already tested such a solution to manage the spread of coronavirus.
Theoretically, a violator identification app based on GPS could be a working solution, but there is a problem. A person can go out without a smartphone and take off all other tracking devices, like a pedometer or a fitness bracelet. Yes, it is hard to believe that anyone can part with their smartphone today for longer than 10 minutes. But if a person wants to break the regime, then they may well go for it.
One of the best uses of smartphones in the fight against the virus is keeping contact between authorities or medical experts and people.
Using an emailing service or notifications, it is possible to conduct a survey of a huge number of people without direct contact and wasting time on telephone calls. The person receives a list of questions, describes symptoms and their general health condition, and gets a response on the data provided. Even without the last feature, this information can be provided to doctors and statisticians to compile a picture of the pandemic in the country.
Despite the fact that some solutions are already being applied and are quite effective, the ethical issue is still open. It may seem outrageous to talk about privacy and freedom of movement during this pandemic. And we don’t think that anyone will doubt the appropriateness of such solutions for the prevention of virus spread.
However, there are still some concerns that aren’t yet resolved. Will people be forced to install such applications on their smartphones? Or will they be installed on smartphones remotely, without notifying users? Will the authorities continue to use these methods after the pandemic? Will they use this situation to tighten control over the movements of people? These are difficult questions, and it is especially hard to conduct such discussions, while new victims appear every day. But doubts will definitely come later.
Many questions remain, and these are only the most important of them. Obviously, the situation will lead to new problems over time. And although there is no doubt that mobile solutions should be used to defeat a common enemy, the issue of ethics should also be somehow solved.