Tech start-ups are rushing to develop immunity passports. These are official certificates that are given to people that have recovered from COVID-19 or were asymptomatic before. The idea is that people link their identity to a coronavirus test result and then share their status with third parties such as employers, restaurants and airports.
That’s how the concept works in theory, however several questions arise in practice which has prompted some of the entrepreneurs behind immunity passports to address these issues in more detail.
Software engineers from FinTech firm TranferWire developed digital immunity passports that are currently being tested in Estonia. Co-founder and CEO Taavet Hinrikus claims they won’t be publically launched until there is scientific consensus on COVID-19 immunity.
Hinrikus added that an agreement about immunity should be universal. There are agreements in the scientific community that antibodies for COVID-19 exist, however there is no agreement about their parameters.
Other companies are working on the tech for immunity passports like British startups Onfido and Yoti, and Germany’s IDNow. However, many scientists still aren’t convinced that these passports will work in practice.
Dr. Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading doesn’t believe that immunity passports are the way forward. Acknowledging they are a great idea, he doesn’t believe they will stand up to the scrutiny.
WHO has urged governments not to enforce handing out of immunity passports, whether physical or digital, due to doubting which antibody tests confirm immunity.
Clarke added we are way off in knowing exactly what makes somebody immune. Worrying about antibodies is like stressing a minor detail while ignoring the whole. He mentioned that antibodies are not the be all and end all of immunity and can actually take a few days to a couple of weeks to fully develop.
Some experts criticize that immunity certificates are unethical as they give certain privileges to people that have contracted COVID-19 and even encourage people to have the disease so they can obtain immune status. Clarke mentions that immunity passports could potentially lead people to falsifying their own antibody tests.
The Ada Lovelace Institute, an artificial intelligence research group reported that immunity passports pose very high risks in terms of social cohesion, exclusion, discrimination, and vulnerability.
Harsh Sinha, TransferWire’s team CTO acknowledges that immunity passports are not a perfect solution, and are more an iterative approach that can evolve with the science of the coronavirus immunity. Sinha adds that whether we have data and information on this immunity or not, states in the US or countries in Europe and Asia are reopening. Without data it’s a bigger risk than if you have been tested already and if you can control who viewed your test results and have a system that allows the disclosure of that information. Sinha mentioned that they are ready to move in if it turns out that antibody tests do not confer immunity.
Onfido whose software works by verifying identities by matching a selfie with a government-issued ID card, is working with Sidehide, a German hotel booking app on integrating technology to have guests present a unique QR code that validates they hold an immunity certificate.
Onfido has held talks with the US government about introducing immunity passports and were approached by the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee for submitting a proposal regarding the use of tech to fight global disease outbreaks.
Husayn Kassai Onfido co-founder and CEO commented that they are in consultations with other governments to create a seamless process.
However, there is still growing fear that these passes infringe on people’s privacy, an issue that becomes more serious given the involvement of sensitive health data. Clarke mentioned that any blood test is a medical record, and is confidential information.
Robotics in the MENA region finds good footing amid virus
As the need for contactless health and safety solutions becomes ever-more essential, robotics in the MENA region is taking off. The forward-thinking startups, students, and entrepreneurial minds have stepped up to meet the growing demand by addressing a complex situation with hands-on solutions.
In the UAE, entrepreneur Aswin Sarang, understands that the demand for robotics in the MENA region is on the rise, and has developed several robots each capable of performing a certain task which include delivering food and medicine, sanitization services, and checking for fever.
“The idea is to sterilize infected areas and surfaces, such as hospitals, endemic neighborhoods and isolation rooms, to prevent doctors, health workers and volunteers from being infected.” Said Aswin Sarang – Head of Robotics & AI at Reliable Robotics.
The company supports healthcare authorities, airports, malls, as well as the private sector.
Recently, Reuters reported on an Egyptian engineer Mahmoud el-Komy who put his healthcare robot to the test with positive results. The robot was made to deliver routine healthcare duties such as taking temperature and testing for COVID-19 all via remote control.
The robot also delivers health information to the patients.
“There has been a positive response from patients. They saw the robot and weren’t afraid. On the contrary, there is more trust in this because the robot is more precise than humans.”
The drive to develop robotics in the MENA region seems to be sparking passion among the youth as well. In Lebanon, two engineering students created a cleaner bot of their own to sterilize indoor spaces like hospital rooms and offices. The cleaner bot costs $700/$800 to produce and can be rented out for cleaning at a fee of $50/$70 per session, depending on the size of the job arabnews.com reported.
On demand sterilization service robotics in the MENA region and around the world may see a similar rise in demand post-pandemic. Performing routine tasks that limit human exposure can be safer and more efficient for consumers and businesses alike.
The multi-cloud adoption boom
As the rapid advancements in tech continue – fueled by the current pandemic – we find ourselves stretching our limits and breaking boundaries. An important area that has gained significant traction this year is cloud computing, and more specifically, multi-cloud adoption.
What is multi-cloud?
For those of you who are not familiar with the concept, a multi-cloud environment Is when an enterprise utilizes more than one cloud platform and delivers a specific function, application, or service. Multi-clouds can be made up of private, public, and edge clouds to achieve a datacenter’s end goals and objectives.
Multi-cloud adoption garnered a significant increase to 70 percent year-over-year in 2020, outpacing the previous year by a whopping 20 percent.
Current State of multi-cloud
The Continuous Intelligence Report The State of Modern applications, DevSecOps and the Impact of COVID-19 from Sumo Logic revealed that customers adopted 3 main vendors to meet their cloud needs; CloudTrail (60 percent), VPC Flow Logs (34 percent) and GuardDuty (22 percent) respectively.
The report is developed from data that is aggregated from more than 2100 Sumo Logic customers that run applications over several major cloud platforms as well as on-premises environments. The report highlighted the importance of securing cloud workloads via the adoption of both cloud-native security technologies and available cloud data sources.
Furthermore, the pandemic has highlighted how important remote work is – and that is where cloud-computing shines bright. The rise in multi-cloud adoption led enterprises to modern cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Google Cloud Platform (GCP).
It is noteworthy to mention that AWS regional centers in the EU and US were among the top targets for hackers, according to the Sumo Logic’s global intelligence.
What are the benefits of multi-cloud adoption?
- Flexibility: No single cloud can perform most business functions, or at least no single cloud can do everything well. Integrating multi-cloud can allocate the right cloud platform to the right business function
- Proximity: By hosting some workloads through regional cloud providers that operate closer to where the user is, the enterprise would be greatly enhancing a user’s experience
- Failover: As a failover solution, multi-cloud adoption can protect an enterprise from outages by providing readily available and highly scalable backup for data and workflows for systems
Why GovTech adoption during COVID-19 is a must
GovTech is a new term that refers to the modernization and/or digitization of government services for better accessibility and efficiency of public services. A mouth full, but this suggests a need for governments to do what the private sector has been doing from the start: embrace and incorporate industry 4.0 technology. However, to do so on a governmental level is complex.
The tech revolution occurring around the world, accelerated by the pandemic will not wait for governments to search their paper file cabinet for a solution. Citizens’ expectations of speed and efficiency are set higher by the private sector.
Too many authorities in developing nations, and many government-managed institutions in developed nations, are woefully behind on tech adoption within their systems.
According to the World Bank’s definition as stated in their brief, GovTech is essentially about putting people first.
“GovTech is a whole-of-government approach to public sector modernization that promotes simple, accessible, and efficient government”.
Governments who had already begun improving their digital infrastructure before the pandemic, had a better chance of curbing outbreaks after the initial wave with known exceptions. Namely the US and UK.
Examples of GovTech used well during the pandemic can be found more to the east, in Singapore and South Korea among others, where data-gathering and citizen compliance with safety measures worked well to begin with.
Still, in the United states we see examples of GovTech being implemented even before the pandemic.
In areas of infrastructure, 120 Water Audit was recently launched, a cloud-based water management software, that a government on any level and size can use to minimize water waste.
During the pandemic, we have seen companies like BlueDot develop early warning systems to predict outbreaks, allowing governments to react preemptively. These systems used data gathered from numerous data sets from news, medical records and airlines to detect certain trends using their algorithm.
In the future, we should expect better GovTech adoption in public health services. Governments must work with the private sector to secure the right systems and consolidate their systems for better data collection. Undoubtedly, this is a long-term process.
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