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Covid-19 mass testing – the need for strategic implementation

Adnan Kayyali

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Covid-19 mass testing – the need for strategic implementation

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.

Junior social media strategist with a degree in media and communication. Technology enthusiast and free-lance writer. Favorite hobby: 3D modeling.

MedTech

Top 3 Innovative Solutions against COVID-19

Mounir Jamil

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Innovative Solutions

Humanitarian needs have reached their highest levels in decades – and the pandemic is only causing these levels to further increase. According to estimates from the World Food Program (WFP), 256 million people could be pushed to the edge of starvation by 2020-year end. In response, humanitarian agencies are driving innovative solutions against COVID-19. We’ve highlighted some of them.

The need for mobile money solutions and blockchain

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humananitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that it will take US$90 billion to help the most vulnerable people survive. One of the best innovative solutions to alleviate this problem is through cash assistance, as this technology puts money directly into the hands of beneficiaries that know best what they need when a disaster strikes. Cash is easiest to handle and transfer, allows for greater flexibility, and gives support to local markets. Humanitarian agencies currently already deliver US$4.7 billion in cash and vouchers to people in crisis each year. These agencies are now studying how to increase this number by switching between in-kind and cash delivery, or a mixture of both. 

Yemen has adopted mobile money recently as part of its innovation solutions against COVID-19. Other governments are also transferring money to citizens in need. 

Using remote technologies to deliver aid 

3D printing, blockchain and drones are all part of the innovative solutions humanitarian agencies are deploying to overcome travel restrictions and risks of spreading the virus. Drones are being put to use by many companies, governments, and humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance and medical support. 

In Rwanda, Zipline uses drones to deliver medical supplies across the country and to bring testing samples to labs back in Ghana. The system works in the following way: a health worker sends a text to order supplies and drones collect and deliver them from the distribution center. The drones can carry up to 1.8Kg of cargo and can travel at a speed of 90 miles per hour. 

In parallel, blockchains are being used to permit multiple partners to remotely track and provide the flow of cash for assistance. 

OCHA win Cameroon has collaborated with the Ministry of Health, the engineering school Polytechnique, and with the Israeli Embassy to support the 3D printing of masks and respirators for frontline healthcare workers. 

Utilizing maps, modelling missing data 

Aid agencies are using data to generate real time interactive maps for situational analysis as part of their innovative solutions against COVID-19. These maps include but are not limited to, the World Health Organization (WHO) real time coronavirus caseload dashboard, WFP’s Hunger Map LIVE that predicts hunger in real time, the school-feeding map that displays the impact of school closures on hunger, and the Humanitarian Data Exchange’s COVID-19 pandemic dashboard tracking cases in 25 countries. In addition to these maps, satellite imagery is being layered with vulnerability data that allows the detection and identification of high-risk areas. 

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MedTech

The importance of OPSEC during COVID-19

Adnan Kayyali

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OPSEC during COVID-19

Though the origins of OPSEC (Operations Security) began with the military, in our digital age, it encompasses private and public sectors alike. OPSEC during COVID-19 is an especially delicate matter. It refers to the process of assessing and protecting critical, sensitive, or otherwise classified data secure from adversary groups. The difference between OPSEC and InfoSec is that the former includes information as well as the security of people and their physical assets.

OpSec is taken especially seriously in the military, as it can mean the difference between victory and defeat, and the loss of life. In the Ukrainian and Syrian wars for example, soldiers taking selfies of themselves and posting them on social media exposed themselves to geolocation, thereby compromising their locations. In one case, a picture was used by their adversary to pinpoint the exact coordinates of a military base, sending a devastating airstrike soon after.

Why is OPSEC during COVID-19 especially sensitive? Because teamwork across all industries is being done remotely, often from home or a public space, where many digital fronts are more vulnerable than they would be in a controlled physical environment, and with a closed secure network.

“While government and military agencies are of the utmost importance,” Michael Fritzlo, Executive Chairman, Ironsphere, said in an interview with Pandemic Tech News, “the OPSEC principles established by top commanders with the rise of digital systems over the last several decades also apply to financial service institutions, healthcare providers, insurance companies, and more,”

Studies have shown that a number of cybersecurity breaches come from within a company, either by accident, through phishing for example, or with an insider employee working with competitors. In a world as interconnected as ours, data breaches can ruin a company, not only shaking its competitive edge, but also its customers’ trust.

“The definition [of OPSEC] continues to evolve and depends on each agency or enterprise’s mission and offering, but given the massive growth of cyberattacks, OPSEC is impossible to do well without software automation and AI” explains Fritzlo.

As institutions continue to expand their capabilities in OPSEC during COVID-19, it is possible that we will see a spike in automated cybersecurity adoptions. Entities that wish to retain the integrity of their information systems are forced to think outside the office.

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MedTech

Can the NHS COVID-19 app infringe police work?

Mounir Jamil

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NHS COVID-19 App

The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) has confirmed officers are being told not to install the NHS COVID-19 app on their work smartphones.

The NHS COVID-19 app detects when users have been around or in close proximity to someone that has Coronavirus. 

Some of the officers have also been told they may not even need to obey self-isolation notifications and alerts that are generated by the app when they use it on their personal phones. Instead, Lancashire Constabulary advised staff to use the force’s own COVID-19 helpline.

News agencies in London such as the BBC have contacted the North-West England force after finding out through sources that the advice had been issued for security reasons. 

The source in question also said that officers were told not to carry their personal phones while on duty if they had previously activated the app. This applies to staff that are working in back-office positions as well public-facing roles.

In a statement, the NPCC confirmed that work-phone policy is common among all forces and that they are currently undergoing an urgent review of the matter. 

A spokesperson for council said that “police forces use a variety of mobile devices with different system restrictions”. He added, “It is important that we have confidence that the NHS app will work for officers and staff consistently across the country, and it is for this reason that we have recommended that officers and staff download the app to their personal, as opposed to work devices, rather than any suggestion of security implications.”

The NPCC might drop the policy as soon as early next week. The NHS COVID-19 app launched last Thursday and has since been downloaded more than 12 million times.

NPCC had previously voiced concerns about officers sharing information with human contact tracers on the field as it might compromise undercover work and several other sensitive operations. 

However, since the NHS COVID-19 app is designed to keep people’s identities anonymous, this shouldn’t be a problem in this case. 

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