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How Asia’s tech firms are helping to stem the Covid-19 outbreak

Data analytics and robots are being deployed in China and other Asian countries that have been hardest hit by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak

From data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to robotics, technology is being deployed in China and other Asian countries that have been hardest hit by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Chinese tech giant Alibaba, for instance, collaborated with the Zhejiang Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a system that can expedite the diagnosis and analysis of the virus.

With its AI algorithm, Alibaba claimed to have reduced the time it takes to conduct genetic analysis of suspected coronavirus cases from several hours to about 30 minutes.

In addition, Alibaba Cloud made its cloud-based AI-powered computing platform available for free to global research institutions to accelerate viral gene-sequencing, protein-screening and other research in treating or preventing the virus.

The coronavirus outbreak – now known as Covid-19 – was first reported in Wuhan, China in late December 2019, and has since become a global emergency. The number of deaths due to Covid-19 in China has already exceeded the Sars outbreak in 2003.

“China is becoming the largest testing ground to demonstrate how emerging technologies can be harnessed to improve epidemic management and minimise the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak,” said Venkata Naveen, disruptive tech analyst at GlobalData.

In Wuhan’s major hospitals, sterilisation robots developed by Chinese medical robot developer TMiRob are being used to contain infections in quarantined wards by easily moving into a quarantined zone to sterilise facilities and medical equipment without human intervention.

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This will enable staff to be allocated to the frontline, an outcome that blockchain-powered services are also helping hospitals to achieve.

China’s Xiang Hu Bao, owned by Alibaba’s financial services arm, Ant Financial, is offering a blockchain platform to speed up claims processing, reducing the need for face-to-face contact amid the outbreak.

With drones playing a key role in transporting supplies during emergencies, Chinese AI startup Antwork has launched the first “urban air transportation channel” to deliver medical supplies between Xinchang County People’s Hospital and the county’s disease control centre, both located in Zhejiang, one of the most severely coronavirus hit provinces.

Disseminating timely and accurate information to people during a disease outbreak is part of any disease containment strategy.

In Japan, tech startup Bespoke has launched a chatbot called Bebot to provide the latest and reliable updates to travellers on the coronavirus outbreak. Accessed through a mobile app, it can answer queries on the coronavirus such as symptoms, preventative measures and treatment procedures.

Global tech giants such as IBM are chipping in, too. The company said it plans to work together with medical institutions and practitioners by leveraging the IBM Clinical Development system to support the development of key drugs to combat the virus. 

According to IDC, the demand for AI and big data offerings will be less affected by the economic fallout from the Covid-19 outbreak than hardware, while the markets for technologies such as the internet of things will see minimal declines.

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