Massive Media Messaging
Cellphones, radio, and other communication channels can be used to rapidly inform and educate the public about COVID-19
Cell phone messaging is a powerful tool for reaching a population. Widespread SMS texting has been used across the globe to communicate COVID-19 information at national, regional, and local levels. The WHO published a set of recommended messages that can be tailored to fit local needs.
In South Korea, SMS texts have been used to alert citizens to daily case counts, local case burdens, and even the gender, age, and locations recently visited by COVID-19 patients. Vietnam has also employed regular SMS messaging to portray the virus as a common enemy for the people to fight back against. A cartoon-based video clip on how and why to guard against COVID-19 went viral in Vietnam.
In Rwanda, radio shows that highlight the importance of handwashing, stay-at-home orders, and social distancing have played a key role in disseminating COVID-19 information. In regions with low literacy rates, radio can facilitate the spread of information to large populations. The international charity WaterAid partnered with local station Radio Ishingiro to produce the informational shows.
In India, incoming cell phone calls played a message about COVID-19 and preventive measures before parties to the call were connected. An app called Arogya Setu was developed for smartphones that provided callers guidance on COVID-19 symptoms and options for medical care. A lighter version was developed for inexpensive feature phones used by the majority of the population.
Twitter has also served as a megaphone for Ministries of Health, public officials, scientists, and other key players in national COVID-19 response systems.
Potential Contacts: WaterAid
South Korea is Reporting Intimate Details of COVID-19 Cases: Has It Helped?, Nature, March 18, 2020
Coronavirus: Vietnamese COVID-19 Video Goes Viral as Prevention Message Proves Popular, Euronews, June 3, 2020
Coronavirus: Rwandan Radio Stars Spread Hygiene Message, British Broadcasting Channel, April 16, 2020
Emerging COVID-19 Success Story: Vietnam’s Commitment to Containment, Our World in Data, June 30, 2020
COVID-19 Message Library, World Health Organization, April 28, 2020
Role of Telecom Network to Manage COVID-19 in India: Aarogya Setu, Nature Public Health Emergency Collection, June 2, 2020
Young Rwandan Radio Stars Help in Fight Against Coronavirus, WaterAid, April 21, 2020
Screening international travelers through surveys, temperature scanning, testing, and quarantining can minimize the risk of “importing” COVID-19
The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) announced in an April 2020 report that an unprecedented 100% of countries had imposed travel restrictions in response to COVID-19. The UNWTO report provided a detailed timeline of travel policies around the world (as of April). This free online interactive map, created by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), is updated every day to provide accurate up-to-date information related to restrictions and screening procedures. Some countries have established, or are currently working to develop, so-called “travel bubbles“, or safe travel corridors between specific countries (See Related Idea below)
Taiwan started early – on January 6, 2020 – when the country’s CDC announced that it would screen all travelers from Wuhan, China for pneumonia, fever, and other symptoms of yet unknown SARS-CoV-2 infection. Later, it created an Entry Quarantine System and issued passengers a health declaration pass via SMS that was shared with hospitals, pharmacies, and public health officials.
By late January, Vietnam developed similar screening measures for arrivals from China. All travelers from China were required to submit a health declaration and undergo institutional quarantine for 14 days; these requirements were later expanded to travelers from the United States, South Korea, and EU countries. Travelers were tested before and after the quarantine period, and all services were provided free of charge. Vietnam continues to update its travel policies, with up-to-date information reported on this site.
As the virus slowed in China by late February, China tightened its screening procedures to prevent reinfection from abroad. Some areas of China have also implemented additional quarantine requirements. Chinese airports, subways, and other highly trafficked locations, have experimented with AI to screen travelers for high body temperatures and mask adherence. This page has updated information regarding travel policies specific to China.
Other governments in Asia have similarly issued restrictive travel policies. An American visiting South Korea described in detail on Twitter his experience from the moment he landed at Seoul airport; it is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding what an especially thorough traveler screening system looks like. Travelers to Hong Kong (HK) are quarantined in a convention center while the results of a self-administered spit test are processed. Airport officials collect each traveler’s address and method of transit, and instruct them to download an app and wear a bracelet that supports HK’s e-fencing policy.
Traveler screening policies have also been adopted in countries across Africa. Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania all reopened for international travel by August, with differing screening strategies.
Potential Contacts: International Air Transport Association
World Tourism Remains at a Standstill as 100% of Countries Impose Restrictions on Travel, United Nations World Tourism Organization, May 11, 2020
COVID-19 Related Travel Restrictions, A Global Review For Tourism, United Nations World Tourism Organization, April 28, 2020
COVID-19 Travel Regulations Map, International Air Transport Association [Updated daily]
How ‘Travel Bubbles’ Are Replacing Quarantines Around the World, Forbes, May 18, 2020
In Response to Pneumonia Outbreak In Wuhan, China, Taiwan CDC Advises Travelers Visiting Outbreak Area to Take Relevant Precautions Throughout Trip and After Returning to Taiwan, Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, January, 6, 2020
How Digital Contact Tracing Slowed Covid-19 in East Asia, Harvard Business Review, April 15, 2020.
Entry Quarantine System to be Launched; Easy Entry Procedure to be Completed by Scanning QR Code Before Boarding, Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, February 14, 2020.
Containing the Coronavirus (COVID-19): Lessons from Vietnam, World Bank, April 30, 2020
COVID-19 In Vietnam: Travel Updates and Restrictions, Vietnam Briefing, Updated August 10, 2020
China Tightens Screening of Travelers, Fearing Reinfection From Abroad, The Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2020
SenseTime Uses AI to Fight Novel Coronavirus Outbreak, ChinaDaily, February 2, 2020
China’s Travel Restrictions Due to COVID-19: An Explainer, China Briefing, Updated August 12, 2020
Michael Kim Twitter Thread, Twitter, May 9, 2020
This 8-Hour Health Screening Could Be the New Norm For International Travel, The Points Guy, May 14, 2020
Coronavirus: Hong Kong’s Screening System For Airport Arrivals Holds Lessons for Travel Industry in Post-Pandemic World, South China Morning Post, April 15, 2020
What to Know About COVID Policies in Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda, Travel Weekly, July 31, 2020
Access to Masks
Locally-sourced or government-supplied, masks have become part of a daily global uniform
Singapore has rolled out over 400 vending machines to dispense free reusable masks to its citizens. With the swipe of an identification card, citizens were given one of six million reusable masks being dispensed as part of a three-week mask distribution exercise. In other East Asian countries where masking is a common part of daily life, rules were implemented to prevent panic buying and hoarding. In February 2020, Taiwan developed a rationing protocol to protect the nation’s stock of masks. By presenting a national health insurance card at a drugstore or pharmacy, Taiwanese citizens could buy two masks for approximately US$10 every week. A “Mask Map” site was also developed in collaboration between Taiwan’s government and community-based engineers to show which stores have masks available
In sub-Saharan Africa, organizations across Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Liberia, and Ghana have harnessed numerous tailors to make masks for the masses. Nigeria’s government provided grants to 100 tailors to increase production capacity. In Kibera, Kenya’s largest informal urban settlement, local tailors provided affordable masking options long before public health officials began distributing them.
Easier Than Withdrawing Money’: Reusable Mask Vending Machines a Hit Among Young and Old, The Strait Times, May 26, 2020
Taiwan’s New Mask-Rationing System Goes Into Effect Today, Taiwan News, February 6, 2020
President of Taiwan: How My Country Prevented a Major Outbreak of COVID-19, Time, April 16, 2020
Mask Map, Fight COVID Taiwan
Can African Tailors Help End COVID-19 Mask Shortages?, AllAfrica, April 21, 2020
Nigerian Tailors Are Hand-Making PPE to Help Fight Coronavirus, CNN, April 17, 2020
In This Sprawling City Within a City, Fighting Coronavirus Requires Solidarity, National Geographic, June 9, 2020
Encouraging Mask Usage
Mask usage can be encouraged by public education, free provision, and threat of punishment
Masks are believed to be effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19. In places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, they are widely used by the public. Exhortation by national leaders, e.g. by South Korea’s prime minister or health care experts, can encourage mask usage. In South Korea, one ministry used hundreds of drones for a dazzling display of the value of wearing masks and observing social distancing. The informational site Fight COVID Taiwan, developed by students to educate the public, has dedicated a section to proper mask usage, including how to ensure a good fit, how to take off, and how to dispose.
Singapore also put notable effort toward encouraging masks, organizing a national “Stay Masked” campaign to educate the public on the importance of masks. The campaign has coordinated several rounds of mask distribution, funded by the Singapore state nonprofit organization Temasek. Masks are often distributed through dedicated vending machines, where residents scan their ID cards to collect two free reusable masks (per round); residents may also purchase additional masks to be collected from the machines. Like many places, masks became a requirement for entering malls or supermarkets. To improve access, a nonprofit volunteer group called Masks for All SG started a program in Singapore to supply an additional 500,000 free masks to the isolated elderly, the poor, and migrant workers. Some have argued that even after Covid-19 passes, Singaporeans should routinely use masks when they are sick or in crowded places, such as subways.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has battled several epidemics, failure to wear masks can lead to fines or even arrest – another way to promote compliance.
Starting in March 2020 a few countries, such as Vietnam and Venezuela, mandated masks, but most countries started requiring masks in public settings, such as public transportation or markets, in April 2020. By mid-August, about 50 countries mandated mask wearing in public settings.
Related Ideas: Access to Masks
To Curb the Coronavirus, Hong Kong Tells the World Masks Work,Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2020.
S. Korean Researchers Develop Washable Mask Filters Using Nanofibers, Arirang News, March 17, 2020
Amazing Drone Show Encourages Wearing Masks, CNN, undated [Video]
About Us, Fight COVID Taiwan, June 8, 2020
Mask Usage | Fight COVID Taiwan, Fight Covid Taiwan, May 9, 2020
Singapore Residents Can Soon Collect Free Face Masks From Vending Machines, Vice News, June 25, 2020
Forum: Promote Mask-Wearing Culture After Circuit Breaker Ends, The Straits Times, May 20, 2020
Masks For All SG to Distribute 500,000 Masks to Vulnerable Groups, Urges Residents to Wear Masks Properly, The Online Citizen, June 3, 2020
The Masks Of Congo Are Worn To Protect, To Protest — And To Strike A Pose, National Public Radio, June 21, 2020
Which countries have made wearing face masks compulsory? Aljazeera.com, August 17, 2020
Innovative contraptions for dispensing water can ensure safe handwashing in vulnerable communities
Agencies such as the WHO and CDC have emphasized the importance of handwashing as a critical measure to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. With an estimated 3 billion people around the world lacking access to handwashing facilities (40% of world population), there is an urgent need for improved water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services to fight the pandemic and prevent various other infectious diseases. Several innovative low-tech handwashing solutions have been developed to address this issue; these ideas often emerge from lower-income countries but have the potential to be deployed in high-income countries as well.
Originating from Ghana, the Veronica Bucket is an innovative handwashing solution developed by local biologist Veronica Bekoe. Commonly found in schools and hospitals, these large, free-standing plastic buckets with spigots make sure that water runs off into another container so that no one washes their hands in contaminated water. First developed and used during the ebola outbreak in Ghana, these devices now regularly appear throughout other countries in West Africa.
HappyTap Co, a social business operating in South and Southeast Asia, has designed a mass-produced portable handwashing station called the “HappyTap”. The low-cost station was developed to make handwashing more convenient and user-friendly. A lightweight, portable design allows for the station to easily be moved around, an added benefit when used in schools, as it is able to move throughout different areas such as entrances, classrooms, and lunch areas. In response to COVID-19, HappyTap has greatly expanded its production and has established various partnerships and response campaigns.
The Hand Hygiene for All Global Initiative, launched by the WHO and UNICEF, brings together regional and global partners to ensure affordable, sustainable services and solutions for these vulnerable communities. The initiative supports the development of national roadmaps to ensure lasting WASH infrastructure and promote healthy hygiene practices. The World Bank is also notably involved with handwashing projects around the world, improving handwashing accessibility in places like Ghana, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua, Yemen, and Indonesia.
Individuals: Veronica Bekoe
Organizations: HappyTap Co
Related Ideas: Managing Outbreaks in Congested Areas
Veronica Bucket: The Ghanaian Invention Helping in Coronavirus Fight, GhanaWeb, March 16, 2020
Africa’s COVID-19 Response is a Glimpse of How Things Could Be Different, Financial Times, April 29, 2020
Hand Hygiene for All Global Initiative, World Health Organization
COVID-19 Makes Handwashing Facilities and Promotion More Critical Than Ever, The World Bank, April 30, 2020
Tech-Based Social Distancing
Digital technologies, including robots, can be used to promote social distancing
In the parks of Singapore one might come across a four-legged robotic dog, developed by Boston Dynamics, that uses sensors and a 360-degree camera to play prerecorded messages when people violate social distancing rules. Some countries are also using technology to remind people about social distancing without actual surveillance. For example, the Kenyan Red Cross used drones with speakers to play messages about COVID-19 prevention while delivering food to families.
In a quasi-form of social distancing, China rolled out a QR code platform that marks people as green, yellow, or red depending on their isolation/quarantine status. Public spaces and venues now have QR scanners and people can be denied access based on their code status, thereby separating the sick from the healthy.
In the U.S., construction sites are using wearable technology to simplify site check-ins and alert others of emergencies. A new device working off the same platform, Proximity Trace, developed by Triax, beeps when employees come within six feet of each other and documents interactions between workers and equipment.
As in other instances, using digital technologies creates concerns about what data is being gathered, where it is being stored, and who has access to it. In the US, drone surveillance for social distancing created a backlash in a small town over concerns about privacy. Drone surveillance in New York City also has not been well-received.
Fighting the Coronavirus With Innovative Tech, The New York Times, June 16, 2020
Using Drones in the Fight Against… – Kenya Red Cross Society, Kenya Red Cross Society Facebook Page, April 16, 2020
China’s Covid-19 QR Code Surveillance State, Financial Times, May 7, 2020
In the Time of COVID-19 – How Will You Maintain Safe Working Distances?, Triax Technologies, undated
Could ‘Pandemic Drones’ Help Slow Coronavirus? Probably Not—But COVID-19 Is A Boom For Business, Forbes, April 25, 2020
Amid Virus, Those in India’s Largest Slum Help One Another, Associated Press, June 4, 2020
Using AI to Detect Social Distancing Violations, Medium, May 6, 2020
WATCH: A Drone Was Seen Flying Over a Manhattan Park on Saturday, Urging Pedestrians to “Maintain Social Distancing.”, CBS News/ Twitter, April 5, 2020
Robots and Drones for Disinfection
Drones and robots can be used to disinfect public spaces with disinfectants and UV-light
Robots are increasingly used for disinfection by shining UV-C light or spraying disinfectant. Many robots are able to navigate independently using sensors to detect when people are nearby. Robots have been created by the Danish company UVD, which plans to supply over 2,000 medical facilities in China. Similar technology has been locally developed in China and Singapore, where disinfection robots are routinely deployed in hospitals, malls, and other public spaces. The Chinese firm TMiRob distributed AI-guided robots to Wuhan hospitals to support disinfection efforts. Company executives have said that the demand for robots has increased significantly, both in China and internationally, and has exposed potential customers to the benefits of AI-guided robots in healthcare settings. In Hong Kong, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) deployed robots, developed by Avalon Biomedical, to disinfect public transportation. In the United States, disinfection robots are expected to play a critical role in the travel industry. Startups, such as Ava Robotics, are developing UV-based robots to disinfect large spaces such as food banks, factories, supermarkets, and schools.
Drones have also been deployed for wide-scale disinfection, and are particularly useful for rural areas that are harder to reach. Agricultural drones developed by XAG have been repurposed to spray disinfectant in China. In India and South Korea drones have been used for large-scale disinfection campaigns. However, there has been concern regarding the possible impacts of disinfectant sprays on human health and the environment, with some cities like Mumbai rejecting the method because it is viewed as lacking scientific support.
Autonomous Robots Are Helping Kill Coronavirus In Hospitals, IEEE Spectrum, March 11, 2020
Disinfection Robots Deployed On Frontlines to Combat Coronavirus, China Daily, February 7, 2020
UV Disinfecting Robots To Be Deployed in Fighting COVID-19, The Straits Times, April 23, 2020 [with short video]
Magnificent Robots Make Medical Magic, China Daily, February 19, 2020
Hong Kong Deploys Robot to Disinfect Subway, Reuters, March 23, 2020 [Short video]
Robots Play Pivotal Role In Keeping Travel Safe During COVID-19 Era, Forbes, June 21, 2020
CSAIL Robots Disinfects Greater Boston Food Bank, MIT News, June 28, 2020
XAG Introduces Drone Disinfection Operation to Fight the Coronavirus Outbreak, Health Europa, February 5, 2020
With Humans Under Lockdown, How Drones Are Helping Fight COVID-19, The Quint, April 10, 2020 [with short video]
Drive-thru Clinics, Drones: Korea’s New Weapons In Virus Fight, The Korea Herald, February 27, 2020
Drones and the Coronavirus: Do These Applications Make Sense?, We Robotics, April 9, 2020
Mumbai Civic Body Will Not Use Drones to Disinfect Coronavirus Containment Zones, Hindustan Times, April 21, 2020
COVID-19 Mapping Apps
Mapping apps can inform public health officials and the public about infection hot spots, but at the risk of discrimination and invasion of privacy
Apps that anonymously track people with confirmed infections of COVID-19 have been launched in South Korea, China, and other countries around the world. In South Korea, cell phone data, credit card information, and other data points are used to backtrack where an infected person has been. Citizens who have come into contact with or been in the area at the same time as the infected person are alerted via SMS. Critics have spoken out about issues of privacy and confidentiality, and the government has responded by announcing that they would limit the amount of information published about persons infected.
The 100m app in South Korea takes published data on COVID-19 positive patients and warns users when they come within 100 meters of a location where that person had been. Corona Map, another similar app shows users locations in South Korea that COVID-19 positive patients have visited within the previous 72 hours. An entrepreneur developed a similar app for Singapore.
A ‘Travel Log’ of the Times in South Korea: Mapping the Movements of Coronavirus Carriers, The Washington Post, March 13, 2020
South Korea’s Tracking Of COVID-19 Patients Raises Privacy Concerns, National Public Radio, May 2, 2020
Coronavirus Mobile Apps Are Surging in Popularity in South Korea, CNN, February 28, 2020
Wildly Popular Coronavirus-Tracker App Helps South Koreans Steer Clear of Outbreak Areas, MarketWatch, March 18, 2020
This Alarming Map Shows Where the Coronavirus Has Spread in Singapore, One of the Worst-Hit Areas Outside of China, Business Insider, February 13, 2020
Disease Severity Indicator
Singapore’s national color-coded framework informs the public about epidemic status and offers behavioral guidelines
Following its experience with SARS in 2003, Singapore established the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) as a national framework for epidemic response. The framework is color- coded and divided into four levels (green, yellow, orange, red) based on disease severity. For each level, there are descriptions of the nature of disease and outbreak status within Singapore, the expected impact on daily life, and recommendations for the public.
DORSCON levels are primarily determined by the Minister of Health (MOH) and Ministry for Home Affairs to guide and coordinate a centralized response. After locally transmitted cases were first identified, the DORSCON was raised on February 7th to the Orange level, which indicates the disease is severe and highly transmissible but has not spread within Singapore. As of this writing, Singapore remains at the orange level and is likely to remain so for some time. Red indicates the infection is severe and spreading widely, requires school closures and work-from-home practices, and asks the public to follow social distancing and avoid crowded places.
From SARS to COVID-19: The Singapore Journey, Medical Journal of Australia, April 6, 2020
What Do the Different DORSCON Levels Mean, Singapore Government Agency Website, February 6, 2020
DORSCON: What You Need to Know About the Framework That Guides Singapore’s Response, Channel News Asia, February 7, 2020
Coronavirus Outbreak: Singapore Raises DORSCON Level to Orange; Schools to Suspend Inter-school, External Activities, Channel Asia News, February 7, 2020
Coronavirus: It Will Be DORSCON Orange For Some Time Yet, Says Task Force Chairman, The Straits Times, June 26, 2020
DORSCON Orange Due to Coronavirus: What It Means For Individuals, Organisations, Channel News Asia, February 7, 2020 [Video]
Capturing and Reporting Data
Capturing data on cases, deaths, and other statistics and reporting that data to local, national, and international stakeholders can help fight COVID-19
Public and private data sites for COVID-19 have built robust systems for information gathering and sharing. Ministries of Health other government bodies have primarily served as repositories of COVID-19 data, for example in Taiwan and Singapore.
The government of Vietnam built a real time data reporting and aggregating tool in 2009 that has facilitated the country’s exemplary COVID-19 response.
Contact tracing and testing initiatives have provided significant data at a national level. For example, Singapore’s TraceTogether initiative captures data from positive COVID-19 cases by using bluetooth connections between cell phones. This data is only accessed when a case is confirmed, but the information can be used to identify clusters.
IBM has partnered with the Indian Council for Medical Research on an AI-based platform for reporting COVID-19 data and answering public health worker queries. The system, which was launched in May, could be applied to a wide range of datasets and diseases to create a more robust portal for information sharing and analysis.
Updates on COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) Local Situation, Ministry of Health Singapore
Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, accessed on July 9, 2020
Emerging COVID-19 Success Story: Vietnam’s Commitment to Containment, Our World in Data, June 30, 2020
TraceTogether, Singapore Government, accessed on July 9, 2020
Tech Boost for Frontline Workers: How IBM is Helping ICMR to Manage Process of Capturing COVID-19 Data, Financial Express, May 7, 2020
Everyone Can Help
Policymakers, leaders of private companies, and citizens, can all help fight Covid-19
People from all walks of life can contribute valuable insight, experience, and energy to the fight against COVID-19, making the job of public health officials that much easier.
In India, a civil servant from Bilwhara developed in April 2020 a COVID-19 strategy for his region that came to be known as the Bilwhara model. The successful implementation of the strategy, which included lockdowns, border-closures, contact tracing, and testing, became a model for the rest of India.
Cottage industries to make masks have cropped up to support both livelihoods and public health. By making masks, tailors in many parts of the world have supported public health efforts while also making a living. Organizations such as Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) and Grevy’s Zebra Project have launched mask-making projects in Bangladesh and Kenya, respectively, where tailors are hired to produce masks for the local communities. Similarly, an initiative called African Masks raises money and coordinates with communities to produce and distribute free masks, employing local tailors in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Benin, and the DRC.
Hong Kong’s successful COVID-19 response has been attributed by some to its citizens, not just to its government. Activist networks established to protest the central government were able to use their networks to disseminate information on social distancing, mask availability, and hospital wait times. Learning from the outbreaks in Singapore’s migrant dormitory communities, volunteers in Hong Kong launched disinfecting campaigns for similar communities in their own city.
Businesses worldwide have redeployed their assets to help fight COVID-19, e.g. by using manufacturing lines for perfume to make hand sanitizer instead or using hotels as isolation centers.
Related Ideas: Access to Masks
This 56-Year-Old IAS Officer is the Brain Behind Bhilwara Model of Fighting Covid-19, The Print, April 9, 2020
From Kenya to Bangladesh Mask-Making Has Become a Thriving Cottage Industry, The Guardian, May 25, 2020
MOAS Launch COVID-19 Humanitarian Response: Mask Making in Bangladesh, Migrant Offshore Aid Station, Undated
New Stripes For Samburu and Grevy’s Zebra Trust, Wildlife Conservation Network, April 2, 2020
How Hong Kong Did It, The Atlantic, May 12, 2020
Volunteers Use UV Light to Sanitise Subdivided Flats, RTHK, May 7, 2020
From Perfume to Hand Sanitiser, TVs to Face Masks: How Companies are Changing Track to Fight COVID-19, World Economic Forum, March 24, 2020