Opinion: Who has the data that could help us combat the spread of coronavirus?...

Author : Massimo Canducci | Chief Innovation Officer | The Engineering Group

27 March 2020

The Engineering Group

How can new technologies help us fight the spread of COVID-19? Massimo Canducci, Chief Innovation Officer at Italian digital transformation experts, the Engineering Group tells us why he believes there is an urgent need to define a regulatory framework that ensures the protection of privacy – but that also contemplates any exceptional requirements that may arise...

These are turbulent times around the world, with thousands of researchers mobilised in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19, better known as Coronavirus, while many teams distributed in various areas worldwide are working to develop a vaccine or a pharmacological treatment that can limit its damage.

The steps taken to contain the spread of the virus are based primarily on the attempt to identify infected people and on trying to reconstruct together with them what they did in the previous few days, who they met and the places they frequented. The objective is to try to identify other people who came into contact with the infected persons, and who may have been infected themselves, and are in need of medical assistance – but also, because they could, in turn, infect other people, in a sort of chain reaction that could become uncontainable, if it is not stopped in its early stages.

The identification of the epidemic curve is therefore a long and complex operation, in which time is a critical variable: the earlier we identify and warn potentially infected people, the earlier we will be able to provide them with medical assistance, while at the same time limiting the spread of the epidemic by preventing them from coming into contact with other individuals.

The real problem is that this research phase is conducted primarily by interviewing people, asking them where they have been in the previous days, with whom they met, what places they frequented, what means of transport they used, and later trying to recover – with enormous effort – the names of all the individuals they may have met in the same train car, in the same restaurant or at the same business meeting, and inevitably having to deal with errors, inaccuracies and potential voluntary omissions.

Massimo Canducci, Chief Innovation Officer, The Engineering Group_580x280

In South Korea, the issue was addressed in a very pragmatic way, using all available information for the purpose of identifying potentially infected citizens – and preventing the transmission to other sectors of the population. The information available includes images and video captured by security cameras, credit card transactions and positioning data collected from smartphones and cars. All this information was collected, cross-referenced and processed, making it possible to drastically flatten the epidemic curve. The other side of the coin is that sometimes the data was used somewhat carelessly, communicating anonymous information to the population that still enabled the identification of some individuals who were potential carriers of the virus or certain behaviour that they would have preferred to have kept private.

About the Engineering Group

The Engineering Group helps in the digital transformation of companies and public and private organisations, across multiple market segments. It  designs, develops and manages solutions for business areas in which digitisation has the biggest impact, including Digital Finance, Smart Government & E-Health, Augmented City, Digital Industry, Smart Energy & Utilities, Digital Media & Communication. With its activities, the Group contributes to modernising the world in which we live and work, combining highly specialised skills in the latest technologies, technological infrastructures organised based on a unique hybrid multi-cloud model, and the ability to interpret new business models. With significant investments in R&D, the Engineering Group plays a leading role in research, coordinating national and international projects thanks to its team of 420 researchers and data scientists, together  with a network of academic partners and universities throughout Europe. The know-how of its employees, whose development is strongly supported  by a multidisciplinary training school that in the past year delivered over 21,000 training days, is one of the Group’s key strategic assets.


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