Coronavirus crisis: A digital policy overview

As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, digital health comes into focus. Daily updates from social media channels, mapping tools on the number of people infected, and online news sources keep millions of people across the globe informed. While the speed of information exchange has been staggering, online platforms have also seen a rise in fake news and misinformation.

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, digital epidemiology is emerging fast. We are witnessing the involvement of major tech actors who are exploring and exploiting the potential of artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and other emerging technologies in predicting, monitoring, and preventing the adverse effects of the crisis.
Coronavirus crisis will further streamline digitalisation in the work of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other global health organisations. To that end, we have mapped out the coronavirus outbreak with digital policy issues as per the GIP Digital Watch taxonomy.

Data to the rescue?

The role of data in the coronavirus crisis cannot be highlighted enough. From early warning identification to monitoring and risk assessment of the pandemic, data collection has been central. 
Much of the attention is accorded to data collection that enabled the prediction and identification of the pandemic. As noted above, on the basis of data collected by BlueDot, an early warning on the virus was communicated to the WHO. Similarly, data collected by medical centres on patients’ geographic location and infection situation was entered into a government database known as the “National Infectious Disease Monitoring Information System Database” which ultimately helped Chinese authorities identify the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Data visualisation has also been put to use. Online data platforms have been created to track the spread of the pandemic worldwide. One such tool has been developed by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University in order to combat what the Washington Post called a “pandemic of misinformation about coronavirus”. The mapping tool gathers data from the WHO, Centers for Disease Control, and the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China. The data on the map is available for download so as to facilitate access to researchers.

In response to the outbreak, other calls for and initiatives on data sharing have surfaced. The Director-General of WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus invited health ministers of member states to improve data-sharing measures on the coronavirus. Academia and the private sector are for their part involved in data sharing. Data has been shared through Github by Harvard Medical School, the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation as well as Metabiota, a risk analysis company.
More data, however, does not necessarily mean more balanced and evidence-based policies. Very often, especially in dealing with risks, we miss the context and references. For example, are current actions of cancelling flights or in some cases boycotting Chinese goods proportional to the risk level? The answer is no. The coronavirus death rate is estimated at 2% which is significantly lower in comparison to 14-15% in the case of SARS, 50% for ebola or 35% during the MERS epidemics. Data is not enough to make informed and reasonable policies in proportion to the current and potential risks. That said, AI may help put data in the right context of risks and societal priorities and in turn facilitate evidence-informed policy-making.

Impact on digital economy

The spread of the coronavirus is also having a major impact on the digital economy. While some predictions show that the effect of the coronavirus on the global economy will be worse than that of SARS, the digital economy is showing no sign of a slowdown.
While traditional stock exchange markets have experienced a decline in part resulting from the outbreak, the value of the most popular cryptocurrency – Bitcoin has increased by 30% since December 2019. Today, the price of one bitcoin is estimated at USD 9,300. Some cryptocurrency and blockchain companies have promised to donate USD 1.44 million to the cause.

The outbreak of the coronavirus has led to a surge in teleworking. Fearing the spread of the virus, companies have requested employees to work from home. Measures were taken by companies including Alibaba and Tencent across China. The Japan Times went on to call the coronavirus the ‘world’s largest teleworking experiment’.

E-commerce is also alive and kicking. Due to the shutdown of cities, people have resorted to purchasing their groceries and other necessities onlineSome reports mention an increase in the business activity of e-commerce companies in China.

Read the complete article at Digital Watch Observatory from DiPLO