Digitalisation: An important building block in the fight against the coronavirus in China 

Digitalisation: An important building block in the fight against the coronavirus in China

Autorin: Yuanyuan Xiao

The outbreak of the coronavirus in China has shocked people in China and around the world. All those responsible have already taken measures to combat this epidemic, with digital technologies playing an important role in many places. Having returned from my hometown Sichuan Province of China a few days ago, where is about one thousand kilometres away from Wuhan, and then directly entered into a full Home-Office model during my quarantine period in Germany, I am still deeply impressed by the way in which my home country is using the opportunities offered by digitalisation in the fight against the coronavirus. Therefore, I would like to report on a few selected examples at this point.

5G technology (5G)

Live stream on the construction of new hospitals in Wuhan: The entire construction process of the two new hospitals in Wuhan, one of which with 1,000 beds was built within 10 days, could be followed by the public via live stream. There was no presenter and no subtitles, only permanently installed cameras that showed the spectators the construction sites, the diligent workers, the trucks and excavators, etc. In the first three days of the broadcast, more than 200 million people watched the live streams, with the use of 5G, cloud and gigabit fibre optic technologies playing a central role.

Remote consultations on coronavirus: To ease the burden on hospitals, the 5G-enabled remote diagnostic system with high bandwidth, low latency and multiple connections allows experts to conduct remote consultations and treat critically ill patients in Wuhan and in remote regions. This system not only ensures timely patient consultation, but also reduces the risk of cross-infection, which is why it has already been implemented by many hospitals in China.

Infrared thermography for measuring body temperatures in groups of people: As stated by the Chinese authorities, one measure against the spread of the coronavirus should be the measurement of the body temperatures of people in public areas such as railway stations, airports and subways. When this year's Chinese Spring Festival came to an end, a large nationwide wave of return travel began. The large crowds of people made it very difficult to measure the body temperatures of travellers. For this reason, 5G-enabled infrared thermal imaging technology was and is used, which is very well suited to quickly scan the temperature of the moving crowd and identify people with abnormal temperatures while the data is transferred to the cloud in real-time.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Robots: The danger of getting infected with the coronavirus in direct human contact is very high. In order to reduce the probability of infection, robots are increasingly being used to do simple human work, which carries a high risk of infection. For example, AI in the form of smart robots is used in medical facilities to measure fever, disinfect and administer medication. In some quarantine zones, robots are even used to distribute food, medication and other relief supplies.

AI-based RNA prediction: In an epidemic situation, in addition to the cause and gene sequence of the disease, the testing of new drugs is particularly important. This requires extensive data training and testing procedures. Conventional methods are too slow and inefficient in a time of crisis, whereas an AI-based solution can make important contributions during this time. For example, a Chinese company has disclosed its RNA prediction algorithm, which has significantly reduced the time required to predict the RNA secondary structure of the virus, from 55 minutes to 27 seconds.

Intelligent evaluation system in the context of computer tomography (CT): According to the explanation of medical experts, the CT image is one of the most important diagnostic and treatment bases for the coronavirus. Due to the rapidly increasing need for medical treatment in a short period of time and the difficulty of making accurate diagnoses quickly, many medical facilities are overburdened. For this reason, an intelligent evaluation system based on artificial intelligence is being deployed, which can intelligently diagnose and quantitatively evaluate CT images based on industry-leading imaging algorithms and estimate the severity of various types of pneumonia. The entire process takes only about 2 to 3 seconds. This is a huge improvement over the traditional method, which takes about 5 to 6 hours to evaluate.

Big Data

The travel activities of the people represent a great challenge in the fight against the epidemic. In this context, the correct handling of large amounts of data almost in real time is a particularly critical success factor. For this reason, China's largest online booking platform for rail tickets activated an emergency mechanism immediately after the outbreak of the coronavirus and is working closely with the local government and medical prevention and control centres. Using Big Data technology, the platform uses train numbers, carriage numbers and connections to try to determine which people were on the same trains as infected people. The extracted information is then analysed and forwarded to the appropriate institutions for further processing.

Cloud Computing

Numerous companies, schools and organisations are affected by the epidemic. For security reasons, on the first day after the Chinese Spring Festival, almost 200 million Chinese worked in home offices and around 150 million students learned online instead of going to school. The resulting data volumes could and can only be handled with the help of cloud computing. The providers of this technology reacted very quickly and offered appropriate and often free online solutions within a very short time. These are suitable for small and large video conferences, remote office, intelligent meetings and health checks, for example.

Drones

Drone technology also plays an important role in the fight against the coronavirus. For example, drones are used for dialogue with sick and quarantined people, for disinfection and the delivery of food, medicine and relief supplies. Equipped with thermal imaging technology, they can even detect people with fever from the air.

My personal conclusion

I experienced the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 with a magnitude of 8 and the Lushan earthquake in 2013 with a magnitude of 7. When I experienced these two catastrophes, I felt a strong sense of cohesion and great human strength. Shortly after the surprising outbreak of the coronavirus, I not only experienced the strength of solidarity between people, but I also admired the rapid development and powerful possibilities of digital technologies.

Numerous digital solutions were used to keep the epidemic in check. This was and is an important building block in the fight against the virus, not least because it knows no national borders. It has been shown how important it is for people to work closely together in an emergency and to use all the technological possibilities available to them to deal with the situation. For example, the 5G live stream allowed me to follow the progress of the construction of the hospital in Wuhan remotely and flexibly, and to follow the actions of governments and various organizations in the fight against the coronavirus. On several occasions, I also decided to go offline to cope with the overwhelming flood of information and take a break from time to time.

Although fortunately I was not infected with the coronavirus during my stay in China, I often had a queasy feeling when confronted with the seriousness of the situation. For example, many of my planned activities for the Spring Festival were cancelled, my return flight to Germany was cancelled several times, and the streets were sometimes as if they were empty, where life should normally pulsate during the Chinese Spring Festival. Fortunately, during this time I received many greetings and kind words from my colleagues and friends from Germany, who comforted me and told me that I didn't have to worry about work, that everything was fine with my colleagues and that the weather was very nice in those days with sunshine and blooming followers. At this moment, I was looking outside through window and imagining this beautiful and warm scene ...

Dr. Heinrich Tschochohei
Managing Director