Health, Humanitarian Emergencies

Blog: Making technology an effective weapon in the battle against COVID-19

This blog is part of the seminar series on ‘The Economics of COVID-19’.

Jun 3 2020 - Imagine a world without the internet and erase the last few decades of technological advancement. Then imagine how governments, schools and businesses would have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the pandemic continues its relentless march around the globe, there have been debates about the effectiveness of response strategies such as social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Particularly, there is concern about the ability of countries with larger populations to enforce these measures.

There is no question that technology has played a major role in the world’s response to COVID-19. It has allowed children to continue their education, people to shop online and work from home and governments to continue to function. But are we maximising the full potential of technology to fight this global pandemic?

How technology can help

Innovation and best practices are emerging across the Commonwealth, with countries like Singapore, Kenya and the UK developing or using technology to continue economic activities or control the spread of the virus. For instance, mobile apps are used in Singapore to trace and track infected individuals and those with whom they have come into contact.

Mobile technologies are also used to determine if people are breaking lockdown regulations. Such innovations could provide avenues for countries struggling with containing the spread of COVID-19, particularly those with very large populations.

These strategies are especially useful for the Commonwealth, which includes some of the most highly and densely populated countries in the world, such as:

    • India (1.3 billion people)
    • Pakistan (220 million people)
    • Nigeria (206 million people)
    • Bangladesh (164 million people)

Some of these nations have faced major challenges in enforcing lockdown measures with strong opposition from parts of their populations. In some cases governments have resorted to using force, with deadly consequences.

On the other hand, there are countries with smaller populations, like New Zealand, effectively managing to control the spread of the outbreak. It is therefore worth examining the correlation between population size and the effectiveness of COVID-19 responses, and how technology can help.

Protecting trade

Another important consideration is how technology can protect business and trade. The World Trade Organization estimates that the pandemic will cause global trade to decline between 13 and 32 percent. This would amount to a trade slump surpassing those caused by the Global Financial Crisis and the 2003 SARS Pandemic.

A decline in global trade could have negative impacts on fiscal sustainability for already economically vulnerable countries, and leave small states, that are heavily reliant on trade, with decreased revenue. The COVID-19 pandemic has therefore necessitated a step-up in technology infrastructure to ensure the continued efficiency of financial transactions and to help countries keep trading.

It is clear that the world needs to act together to mitigate the economic fallout from the pandemic.

 
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