Covid-19 mass testing should be an integral part of any plan to navigate the pandemic. The main objective across the board would be to incrementally ease lockdowns, curfews, and restrictions, open up and revive the economy, all while avoiding a second-wave. Testing is key to all of this. Without proper strategic testing, we cannot effectively isolate, contain and subdue any new pockets of infection.
Governments and institutions, especially those in developed countries, have all the tools they need to begin mass testing and start alleviating confinement. Ideally, restrictions wouldn’t be lifted until a vaccine or effective treatment is created, but that is sadly some time away, and so other measures must be implemented.
The questions to ask would be: What to test and how?
The answer to the first “what to test” is shorter: There are two types of tests, molecular diagnostic testing (RT-PCR), and serology tests. The first, is a standard test to identify whether the person is currently infected or not, and gaging the percentage of infected people within an area or community. The second, reveals whether the person has been infected before, and has developed antibodies. This is to allow people who have developed an immunity to return to work safely, and to provide samples and data that could help in vaccine development and better understand the virus.
The “how” is a slightly longer story. One of the most effective strategies that have been tried and tested by other nations such as South Korea is ‘Testing, Tracking, and Tracing’ – or TTT.
- South Korea used techniques such as drive through testing sites and thermal imaging cameras.
- Tracking, at least in South Korea, involved the obligatory downloading of an application that notifies authorities if a subject breaks quarantine, for which they would be heavily penalized.
- Tracing of course, involves using a person’s location data to determine if they might be infected, map out where they’ve been and warn anyone living in those areas. Information may include details from a person’s phone, credit card, and facial recognition for locating the subject. This obviously brings up major privacy and human rights concerns, but most people can put aside their privacy temporarily – hopefully – in a time of crisis, if it means keeping their loved ones and communities safe.
Another technique for COVID-19 mass testing is known as “Assurance Testing”. Simply put, organizations, communities or even entire towns can request that their members be tested as a whole. This means that testing kits can be supplied on demand for an entire group, easing the organization, logistical strain, and procurement of medical supplies. It is an effective way of opening up the economy slowly and methodically as each office building or company that gets tested all together can pretty much return to work. If infected individuals are found, measures are taken.
It seems like COVID-19 mass testing is the only way out of this mess. We can’t all sit at home; someone has to run all the machines and keep society marching on. But things cannot go back to normal so quickly and easily either. Strategic implementation is key.
The impact of COVID-19 on transport
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, public transport needs to adapt to a new normal and start adopting greener technologies that will render it resilient to future disasters, according to a report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The report – Guidance Note on COVID-19 and Transport in Asia and the Pacific illustrates the impact of COVID-19 on transport, as lockdowns forced millions of people to begin working remotely, schools to shift to e-learning and customers to resort to online shopping and food delivery.
While notions of public transport have been previously perceived as mostly green, affordable, and efficient means of travel, initial trends in cities that have re-opened indicate that public transport is still considered relatively unsafe, and is not bouncing back as quickly as cycling, walking or private vehicles.
Further impact of COVID-19 on transport have manifested as drastic lockdown measures around the globe brought world economies to their knees. Satellite footage recorded data on how concentrations of CO2 and air pollutants fell drastically, bringing clear blue skies to some cities. However, as cities reopened, traffic levels have increased. If this trend continues on a wider scale, it could remove decades of effort that have been put into promoting sustainable development. As public transport reopens, confidence of passengers can be restored through health and safety measures like cleaning, tracking, face covering and thermal scanning
As some countries are starting to enter the recovery phase, further precautionary and preventive operating measures and advanced technology can be implemented to enable contactless process and ease an agile response. Demand management steps can ease crowd control in public transport and in airports. Government initiatives and financial aid are critical during this period to enable public transport to continue supporting the movement of passengers and goods in a sustainable way.
The latest on COVID-19 testing technologies
The NIH (National Institute of Health) is set to invest $248.7 million in new COVID-19 testing technologies to better address the current pandemic. NIH’s newly developed Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative has earned contracts to seven different biomedical diagnostic companies to support a wide range of new lab-based and point of care tests that could significantly increase the type, avaialibility and number of tests by millions per week starting as soon as September 2020. Currently, national demand is estimated to be millions more tests per day higher than the current levels, these COVID-19 testing technologies are expected to make a significant impact on expanding the nations testing capabilities.
The seven technologies use various formats and methods and can be performed in a variety of settings to meet different needs. Four of the mentioned COVID-19 testing technologies include innovations in lab-based testing technologies that include CRISPR, next generation sequencing, and integrated microfluidic chips that have a huge potential to increase testing capacity and throughput while reducing testing result times. The other three technologies utilize platforms to provide nucleic acid and viral antigen tests that can produce rapid results at the point of care. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration have been working with NIH and RADx external advisors to offer general advice on test validation and are also prioritizing the review of emergency use authorization (EUA) from tests made by the RADx,
NIH launched RADx on April 29, 2020, just days after receiving an emergency supplemental appropriation of $1.5 billion from Congress to support innovative technologies to make millions of rapid COVID-19 tests per week available to Americans by the fall.
Several experts from academia, government, and industry including the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering’s (NIBIB) Point-of-Care Technology Research Network (POCTRN) are all contributing to the RADx process via evaluating applications, providing technical and clinical resources and by guiding project teams. NIH has selected approximately 100 of the best concepts to join in an intensive one-week “shark tank” technology evaluation process. 31 of these projects successfully made the cut and have moved to Phase 1, an intense four to six-week period of initial technology validation. The seven tests announced are the first to be selected for scale up, manufacturing, and delivery to marketplace via RADx.
COVID-19 and the impact on technology markets
As the current pandemic continues, COVID-19 and the impact on technology is becoming ever-more noticeable. The impact has already started with major brands such as Apple and Nissan reporting knock-on effects caused by production and supply chain dependency in China. Understanding when the outbreak can be brought under control will help determine the severity of market disruptions.
As for COVID-19 and the impact on technology markets, most major manufacturers depend on parts or production capabilities from China. However, China’s manufacturing capacity and workforce have been hit hard from the virus. As of February 20, China reported more than 75,000 people infected with COVID-19, with a majority of the workforce working remotely. Blue collar workers are starting to cautiously return to their manufacturing sites after being away for a while. The pandemic is placing tremendous pressure on the global supply chain, retail and service industries.
While some manufacturers and retailers are able to live off their stocks for a certain time, the scarcity of products will become an issue very soon. This is especially true for the tech industries even with manufacturing capacities in China starting to produce again. The question is whether consumers will be willing to postpone purchases of out-of-stock items or whether they will consider an alternative product that is available right away.
Even though some companies have already made plans to diversify their sourcing, the supply impact cannot be avoided in the short-term. Countries surrounding China have the potential to benefit economically from these production and supply chain moves, especially the ones with a strong manufacturing and tech footprint.
The mitigation and management of risk during disruptions like these on the tech market depend greatly on being able to spot the early changes in buying behavior. The following are important signs to pay attention to when it comes to navigating these turbulent times:
- Are consumers avoiding or pushing off big value purchases?
- Have competitors’ performance changed significantly?
- What are the sectors that are hit the hardest by the drying supply chain?
- What are the effects of postponing launches on key markets?
- How has the split between online and offline shopping changed with most people being self-quarantined right now?
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