Apart from the dedicated Health Workers, Medicines, Medical Equipments and the Enforcement Agencies, China had mobilised and provisioned Telemedicine, Artificial Intelligence, Drones, Robots and Big Data, Social Media Feeds, CCTV Trackers, to fight COVID-19.
What China Did?
From the IT perspective, there were over 100 Government and Private Players who had been involved in the fight to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. Though the complete ecosystem was never made public, but the deliberate scrutiny of the news articles and government press releases did provide a sketchy strategy of how the Chinese managed the scenario. The same is enumerated below for a broad understanding of the IT enablers:
- The Surveillance of the public was a challenge and this the Chinese achieved much against Human Rights. It is said that, in most of the provinces of China the density of CCTV cameras to include those with Facial Recognition is about 60 per 1000 people, and each of them is connected on a grid and they are made available as feeds to the central sophisticated surveillance application. Utilising its sophisticated and expansive surveillance network for the public good, Chinese government joined hands with tech giants Alibaba and Tencent to develop a “color-coded health rating system” that tracked millions of people daily. The allied smartphone app was first deployed in Hangzhou with collaboration from Alibaba. It assigns three colors to people — green, yellow or red — on the basis of their travel and medical histories. In the industrial hub Shenzhen, similar software was created by Tencent. (Green was no infection and allowed to move out anywhere, Yellow were those under 14 days observation or quarantined, and Red were confirmed COVID-19 infected)
- All forms of data was then needed to be superimposed on the Tracking maps, this was utilised from multiple sources so that no one is missed out and services were mapped to Tencent Maps, WeChat and several other online platforms such as Qihoo 360 and Sogou. The Chinese government had ensured that all the devices were made to provide location data by default for “real-time tracking of people or virus movements”.
- The Social Media was extensively monitored to capture the movement of individuals, the contacts they are with, and the chats that they do among the contacts.
- Based on the National Integrated Government Service platform, Alipay had developed an epidemic prevention and control health QR code system. The “Health QR Code” is generated from the data entered into a standard questionnaire about a person’s recent exposure possibilities and risks. The QR code was then monitored by the back-end Administrator as a COVID-19 attribute, this also facilitated provisioning of the health status certificate for residents and people travelling within the City or Province and back to work when they enter and exit the city. This QR Code was also linked to the Hospital Management System and ultimately linked to the people assigned color code (green, yellow or red). One had to scan the health QR Code to find access to the Hospital and while leaving the Hospital. The three color code (green, yellow, red) was also an indication of low, medium and high exposure risk, this risk levels accordingly designate the user’s freedom of travel. Users with green codes are approved to board public transit, for example, while users with red codes are directed to self-segregate at home for 14 days or were picked up by Ambulances for treatment, based on the decided level of mortality. The tracker map also was used to catch offenders if the red dot was to be found in the vicinity of a Yellow Dot or Green Dot. The QR Code and Color Code were updated on ‘real time’.
- The Robot maintained Temperature Measure’s and the Physically Manned Temperature Measurements were linked to the central application which was mostly deployed along with Facial Recognition Cameras and also Heath QR Scanners. This ensured that the person moving and those in quarantine were monitored and the their health monitored continuously. This setup was deployed in all places. Face recognition and infrared temperature detection techniques had been installed in all leading cities, this was also based on robots and drones and the data was pushed to the central IT ecosystem.
- The integrated IT solution was extended to the living and residential complexes including Apartments, Colonies, Quarantine Barracks, Shops, etc.
- All this required a robust and well configured Database Management System. The Chinese selected to use the ‘Baidu Migration Map’, a Big Data Management System. The Authorities used them to determine how many people came to the economically developed cities or left, and also evaluate their distribution. The authorities used the Big Data tool to determine how many people had been to the seafood market in Wuhan, which was believed to be the ground zero of the outbreak, before it was shut down and inform their disease control decisions. Big Data Analytics was also used to predict the number of potentially infected, so as to decide supply allocation and control measures.
- Additionally, the authorities also use prediction models to estimate the distribution of asymptomatic patients and predict the likely turning point of the epidemic after factoring in other data such as trends in confirmed and emerging cases.
- The importance of Archived data was also of significance and was also required to be analysed to find out the visitors to the Infected Market or for the those who had travelled out after visiting the Market. The Authorities collected the ‘location data’ from the GSM service providers and also from ISPs. The information from users’ smart bracelets, and watches, was also captured by Huami Technology, the firm had collected over 26.76 million sleep and resting heart rate data of 115,000 people in Hubei province and the nearby Anhui province, which were used for building a prediction and target crowed database.
- The Hospitals were designated abinitio by the authorities, for example the designated hospital for the treatment of COVID-19 in Xiamen city was supplied with IT systems. China Unicom has provided mobile devices, 5G network and cloud video services for the hospital isolation wards, enabling the collection and transmission of patient information in the isolated area much quicker. The 5G network shortened the distance between nurses and patients. All this was again integrated via Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) Software and Data Integration Tools/ Data collaboration suits.
- The care team formed WeChat group with each patient for routine communications. Psychological and symptomatic reporting cards were created which were to be fill out by patients and sent to the care team online for nursing interventions. Some nurses were assigned to only monitor testing and its reporting, and also making available test-reports to the doctors/hospitals. This report data was also to be uploaded to the Central IT System. In order to achieve the simultaneous implementation of specialised care plans in the three core designated treatment places, cloud video conferences were made available through 5G network on a routine bases.
- All the stakeholders were on continued communication with 5G speed channel, which included the hundreds of medical staff pooled in from other provinces of China and the People Liberation Army (PLA) as also the Political Leadership. ‘Ding Talk’, an enterprise communication and collaboration platform developed by Alibaba Group, WeChat of Tencent and Platforms from Troila Technology have even provided free-of-charge services during the course of the campaign and also beyond.
- The Supply Chain Management for Medical and other FMCG products were migrated to a ‘contact less’ form of Supply Chain, through improved IT Systems. This also included exploitation of IoT.
- Drones were a big force multiplier that was extensively used for all forms of utilities. Drones were deployed for Crowd Activity Monitoring, Environment Disinfection and Fever Detection. The very fact that the COVID -19 was transmitted by droplet and by contact, the authorities had mounted temperature detection on drones along with facial data capturing/detection software, that pushed data to the monitoring team and the central database. The police could, identify an infected person and then follow the individual through the drone and could also force the individual to reach a hospital or his/her room. Drones were used in other parts of China on many concurrent occasions for fighting the epidemic. Police officers remotely controlled drones with a camera and a loudspeaker to monitor people outdoors. Gathering of crowds and not wearing a mask in outdoor public places was also monitored using the Drone Camera feed. Farm dusting drones were modified for urban environment disinfection in some cities.
- Autonomous Vehicles that is remotely controlled, were also used during the complete campaign. Idriverplus, a Chinese self-driving company that operates electric street cleaning vehicles, was modified to spray disinfectants. The company’s flagship vehicles were also used to disinfect hospitals and also residential complexes where there were infected patients. The Autonomous Vehicles were used as Unmanned Ambulances. Apollo, which is Baidu’s autonomous vehicle platform, has joined hands with self-driving startup Neolix to deliver supplies and food to hospitals in Beijing and other places. Baidu Apollo had also made its micro-car kits and autonomous driving cloud services available for free to companies fighting the virus. The transportation of infected patients were also made possible on Unmanned vehicles and was a saving grace, at a time when the healthcare professionals were at demand and also to ensure the safety and degree of exposure to infected patients. Other companies also provided these unmanned vehicles in delivering essential goods like medicines and foodstuffs, etc.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) also played a leading role in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic. AI was in all the utilities like data analytics and predictive models. Medical professionals were also provide the available AI utilities to understand more about the diseases. AI assisted infection risk identification, temperature monitoring, online screening, consultation platforms, assisted radiological image interpretation and intervention recommendations, were used during the complete campaign. AI-assisted medical image reading programs was launched to help diagnose COVID-19 patients more quickly. A cloud-based coronavirus pneumonia diagnosis service using AI-assisted CT image interpretation was launched by Huawei Cloud, a healthcare business branch of Huawei. Tsinghua University Institute of Precision Medicine, Institute of Artificial Intelligence and Tsinghua University Affiliated Beijing Tsinghua Changgung Hospital jointly developed and launched the COVID-19 Self-Screening System, which was open for free public access. A “Traditional Chinese Medicine + AI” by TCM Brain, a tech company in Hangzhou specialising in AI applications in traditional Chinese medicine, also launched its application nationwide, to assist treatment related issues. Baidu, the Internet Giant of China, built an AI-powered infrared system that was able to detect a change in a person’s body temperature. Baidu also assisted in making its “linear fold algorithm” available to teams that are fighting the outbreak, as per the MIT Technological Review. (Unlike Ebola, HIV and Influenza, COVID-19 has only a single strand RNA, so it is able to rapidly mutate. The algorithm is a lot faster than other algorithms that help predict the structure of a virus). Hangzhou Join Health Technology Co., Ltd., also participated by developing an AI tracking platform for people at risk for COVID-19. It provides self-registration and crowd management modules for high-risk populations, such as people who flew out of Wuhan who were in close contact with an infected person, isolated at home, or those with a fever. Integrated with the smart follow-up platform, which has been operated by Join Health for many years, the AI tracking platform is interfaced with more than 400 hospitals for sharing information and following up the daily health status of high-risk groups.
- Chinese AI companies like SenseTime and Hanwang Technology have claimed to have come up with a special facial recognition technology that can accurately recognize people even if they are masked.
- No IT System can meet the aspiration of the implementer and the end consumer or target audience without a robust Security Solution and System in place. Cyber Security was never neglected in any of the initiatives by the Chinese Government. Adding value to all this, was the team of IT Engineers and Cyber Security experts from the units of the strong Cyber Warriors of the PLA. The involvement of Qihoo 360, an internet security company based in China, in cloud based security solution was commendable. The management by China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), of seamless http/https traffic across the 5G network and the provisioning of larger number of IPs to the plethora of IT assets that were riding on the network, was only possible through government intervention, which is mostly controlled by the CPC (Communist Party of China) and the PLA. In one of the reported incidents; the 360 Security, cyber security firm in Beijing captured an attack that exploits a COVID-19 themed file. The attacker used the file to launch an APT attack (a computer intrusion process by a hacker) on healthcare organisations. Staff from 360 Security confirmed that the hacker used a spear-phishing strategy, where the intrusion bait was sent by email. Some of the bait files were named Wuhan Travel Information Collection Form.xlsm. Once the receiver clicks on the file, the intrusion is triggered. The Security firm was able to beat back the attack in less than six hours.
This article has been prepared on available data in open media and the known IT capabilities of China. This article may not be exhaustive or may also be exaggerative; but the way in which China has been able to wipe-out the COVID-19 infection and contain the spread over its 1.39 billion population, and also for the fact that the country has begun normal/routine life with contained infection of corona, is a matter to be appreciated. All this is not possible without the utilisation of IT, ICT and IT enabled services. The COVID-19 epidemic poses threat and danger for all. The Chinese nation had fought the virus in solidarity.
Notwithstanding all the odds, achieving China’s exceptional coverage, and adherence to these containment measures has only been possible due to the deep commitment of the Chinese people to collective action in the face of this common threat.
We at ‘Cyber Secure India’ believe that, in the fight against the COVID-19 numerous IT innovations should have sprung up and also have been adopted in various aspects of disease control, healthcare as well as people’s daily living and work. The expertise gained, the research outcome and the ‘Used Case’ scenarios gained by rigorously applying COVID-19 containment measures must be used more effectively to urgently enhance global readiness and rapidly develop the specific tools that are needed to ultimately stop this virus.
We also are of the opinion that the technology that has been used is the property of all mankind and not the property of one country.