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March 19, 2020

Balancing Hard Data, Panic to Combat Pandemic

The early success of South Korea and Taiwan in slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus has underscored the necessity for a top-down, data-driven approach in which tech-savvy officials, prepared after earlier Asian epidemics, applied their know-how to mitigate a public health crisis.

While SARS-CoV-2 data trackers reported a sudden, sharp and unexplained spike in Taiwan infections on Thursday (March 19), South Korea’s infection rate continues to decline. So far, the region’s aggressive approach to combating the COVID-19 virus is holding.

Analysts point to those modest successes as a model for combating the pandemic. A snap shot of COVID-19’s global impact describes the current situation in no uncertain terms: “Big data holds the key to combating the pandemic,” concludes a research note released this week by ABI Research.

What is needed is ground truth about virus transmission as a way to stem the widespread panic generated by the pandemic within global supply chains. “A lot of business disruptions are caused not only by COVID-19 itself (health of the workers and employees), but also by panic, misinformation and lack of tangible data to assess the risks,” the market tracker noted.

“The answer to the panic questions is simple: big data.” the report added.

The place to start is huge volumes of local data generated by Internet of Things networks. South Korea, among the most-connected nations on Earth, leveraged IoT localization data to develop apps used to spot coronavirus clusters. Officials also provided developers with access to an open API and encouraged them to create inventory apps for key supplies like masks and other medical supplies, ABI noted.

Hence, South Korea and Taiwan served as a testbed for using data and analytics tools to corral the virus. The market tracker forecasts that those “rapid analytics” trial-runs will translate into accelerated development of data-driven tools for public health, transportation and other key sectors.

To that end, analysts note the growing role IoT data can play for applications like remote monitoring. For example, Taiwan used its existing network of temperature monitors installed in airports and train stations after the 2003 SARS outbreak to help stem the community spread of COVID-19.

Both nations were prepared, but location and remote monitoring data will require major infrastructure investments to reap the public health benefits of emerging data and analytics services. “COVID-19 demonstrates that data are truly the new gold and, in the case of 2020, the absence of data is a great disadvantage, especially for sectors affected the most,” ABI Research concludes.

Meanwhile, data analysts are using available tools to track the scope of the pandemic. Among the oft-cited COVID-19 data visualizations is the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. Data sources for the web site include the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Technology support is being provided by geospatial data specialist Esri.

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