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Coronavirus sparks innovation

Super spreaders to be isolated by CCA, essential workers get an essential network from NetFoundry and the IoT creates a faecal recognition system to combat the Covid-19 virus

The IT industry is responding to coronavirus in the best way it can, with the brightest minds trying to come up with solutions to help in the crisis.

There are already initiatives that have come out of the last few weeks that now have vendors exhorting partners to disrupt mobiles, infrastructure and the internet of things (IoT).

While the newly formed Covid Community Alert (CCA) promises to identify super-infectors and implore them to self-isolate, Network Foundry has created an essential network that gives priority to the work of essential workers. Meanwhile, water scientists at Cranfield University are using the IoT to trace Covid-19 sources in sewage in a scheme that has been dubbed “faecal recognition”.

Software engineers led by a UK-based IT inventor have donated their time and expertise to help health agencies to combat the virus. Their problem was in getting access to useful mobile data that could track population drift and socialising, without falling foul of privacy laws.

Luca Mastrostefano, CEO of the CCA project, spotted a potential solution by untangling useful anonymised data from legally contentious sensitive fields in mobile applications.

Mastrostefano saw that blockages stopped data from being tracked back and analysed by medical and emergency management authorities. This meant they couldn’t alert people who had the closest contacts with an infected patient. 

Although existing systems can do this, they rely on sensitive data based on geo-location, which is blocked because the information is sensitive. However, the CCA claims it can release the information without privacy violations by analysing only the anonymous data transmitted by smartphones via Bluetooth.

Now agencies across Europe can get better intelligence on patient interactions without invading their privacy, says Mastrostefano. By identifying patterns of human association, they can get a better picture on disease spread and build a bigger, more co-ordinated response to population contacts and, consequently, contagion control. 

Volunteer engineers solved the problem with an open source framework for collaboration. Twenty engineers from the UK, Italy, Germany, Spain and Brazil volunteered their time and expertise in response to a plea by Mastrostefano.

But the software solution faces a challenge in being adopted, because it relies on consumer co-operation and needs approval from the agencies, such as the World Health Organization, that it seeks to help.

Meanwhile, at the network layer, comms kit maker NetFoundry has come up with a ring fence that creates a priority network for essential services, using its Cloud Native Networking system. 

Under the NetFoundry offering, hospitals, medical professionals and law enforcement agencies will have complimentary use of its Cloud Native Networking Platform for three months. The system gives administrators an easy way to create networks for essential workers, instead of having to work out how to configure and manage multiple virtual private network (VPN) tunnels, said NetFoundry CEO Galeal Zino.

Shawn Campion, CEO of US- based systems integrator Integro Technologies, claims to have configured and activated 45 essential workers for remote access in less than two hours.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the stack, scientists are using wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) to monitor outbreaks of Covid-19 using the IoT.

According to a report by environmental science and technology researchers Kang Mao, Hua Zhang and Zhugen Yang at Cranfield University, a paper-based device could be used to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus in wastewater on site and track virus carriers in the community.

This could solve the logistical challenge faced by medical professionals when screening suspected infectious cases from individual households.

Faeces and urine from disease carriers contain many biomarkers that can enter the sewerage system. The paper reported that a recent study demonstrated that live SARS-CoV-2 was isolated from the faeces and urine of infected people.

“If CoV-2 can be monitored in the community at the early stage through WBE, effective intervention can be taken as early as possible to restrict the movements of that local population, which minimises the pathogen spread and threat to public health,” said the researchers.

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