Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 57 seconds

Big data has emerged as one of the leading areas that people hope will give a solution in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. This is happening at a time when professionals in healthcare and other sectors are trying to bring their heads together to identify the solution to one of the biggest pandemics of our generation. Researchers are banking on big data to help in limiting the spread of the virus even as the number confirmed cases keep rising every minute.

Throughout the history of infectious disease, the movement of people has aided the disease to move quickly around the world. In fact, COVID-19 is not the first disease that has been fueled by the cross-border movement of people, the 1918 influenza pandemic that infected more than half a billion people all over the world was due to mass movement of soldiers fighting the First World War. With the availability of advanced technologies such as big data and analytics, however, the number of infections of COVID-19 can be reduced if people are tracked with the new surveillance technologies.

With the promise the technology has shown in the past, companies and governments are spending billions of dollars to come up with big data and AI-powered solutions that will help trace contacts and surveillance drones that will monitor groups of people. However, although these technologies are proving to be useful in this battle, some human rights groups and privacy crusaders are not amused with the quick pace at that the technology has been adopted without following the due process. There is also the issue of false positives in AI-based testing kits that has raised concerns over the capability of this technology to help at this time. On the other hand, democracy champions are claiming that the use of drones is affecting the gains on freedoms of movement that have been fought hard for decades and its impacts could go back to long after the virus is subdued.

Regardless of genuine concerns that have been raised by many people, big data is now a crucial part in testing and treating the symptoms of the virus. In the US and China, companies have come up with new testing kits that can test the virus in as short as 10 minutes. This is significantly quicker than the regular nasal swaps that are being used in many countries that can take up to 24 hours. Such tests will make it easy to test people in transit such as passengers before they board planes, trains or buses. The findings of these tests can then be shared with healthcare agencies in real-time through cloud technologies.

In cities that are densely populated, big data technologies are used to enforce social distancing regulations. Surveillance data from cameras and sensors are analyzed to identify where people are more than required, and law enforcers are then dispatched. With these capabilities, areas with more cases of COVID-19 can be isolated and measures taken to curb more spread. Researchers have found out that big data and big data analytics are great technologies for surveillance, contact tracing and development of COVID-19 vaccine and even treatment.

As they rush to develop a vaccine and treatment for the virus heats up, the combination of artificial intelligence and big data have raised the chances of the vaccine being found early. Big data analytics and systems can help identify crucial information in millions of research articles that can hasten the development of vaccines and treatments.  This makes a lot of difference than a century ago when technology was still lacking.

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Scott Koegler

Scott Koegler is Executive Editor for Big Data & Analytics Tech Brief


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