The recent news has been overwhelmingly dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, with advice flying around about the phenomenon of ‘physical distancing’, the imminent dangers and the reason to self-isolate and quarantine. COVID-19 – a virus previously unknown to science – is a respiratory illness transmitted from person to person. The novel disease has spread to nearly every country in the world since it first emerged in Wuhan, China at the beginning of 2020. Since then a remarkable chain of events has unfolded, creating an unprecedented climate of uncertainty among people. With thousands having already lost their lives due to the outbreak, and with no guarantee of it ending any time soon, one thing is indisputable: people need to start working together to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Newer developments demonstrate that COVID-19 might herald a new era of innovations, as humanity is at the epicentre. Below is a selection of recent social innovations for COVID-19 that offer a silver lining for the strengthening of global health.
Singapore is widely known as a global innovation and entrepreneurship hub. The flow of innovation is considered simply remarkable to say the least, as high-tech startups, research centres, businesses and international firms have shaped an astonishing and vibrant technology landscape. The country, in a move to help the international community combat the spread of the disease, has created a piece of software that maps and explores who is most at risk from the disease and concurrently makes its technology freely available to developers worldwide. The TraceTogether app supports Singapore’s efforts to record who has encountered COVID-19 and thus mitigate its manifestation. The government is urging its citizens to download the app and run it, so if someone encounters a coronavirus carrier, it is possible to trace who else may have been exposed to it. Living in Asia? You can now join more than 830,000 users in stopping the spread of the pandemic based on community-driven contact tracing. What about your privacy? TraceTogether does not track your location or contacts, while data collected is stored on your phone for 21 days and will not be accessed unless you are identified as a close contact.
COVID-19 can survive on surfaces outside the human body for days and still be contagious. Ultimately, it is necessary to find novel ways and approaches to massively decimate the virus and relieve the symptoms of those affected. Since there is no specific therapy against coronaviruses, the key is preventing infection. Reducing human-to-human contact, issuing international guidelines on how to address the outbreak and reducing the risk of exposure seem to be the top priorities for governments. Recognising the need to minimise contagion, JD.com, the largest retailer in China, put its autonomous delivery robot technology to work in the fight against COVID-19. Indeed, robots are immune to disease and can be used to transfer goods during lockdowns. From delivering medical supplies to daily necessities, autonomous delivery systems stand as remarkable examples of social innovation because they nurture societal well-being by protecting both employees and customers, all based on technological capabilities. The future of autonomous delivery may be unfolding in front of us.
As doctors predict a flood of cases on a global scale, hospitals and medical clinics must prepare for what everyone fears will be a massive wave of coronavirus carriers. Regularly scheduled appointments and procedures, ranging from radiation treatments for cancer to dialysis sessions and health evaluations, are being cancelled or postponed in an attempt to buy some time, prepare for what is coming and conserve essential resources. Navimize uses a technology that predicts delays in a doctor’s schedule and then automatically informs patients when their appointment will take place. The rapid changes to people’s lives caused by the outbreak have brought an atmosphere of uncertainty. Social innovations as Navimize, which use a patient management solution, help practices manage sick patients and prevent the disease from spreading to others. One of the issues during this global pandemic is that people with compromised immune systems can be further weakened through exposure to previously unknown viruses. It is therefore important to develop mechanisms that ensure vulnerable groups are not left behind.
Could it be that the future of artificial intelligence is already here? 2020 might be the year when robots have the power to outsmart us, by improving humanity through interventions like sterilising and disinfecting rooms, effectively limiting the spread of COVID-19. With the surge of patients hitting medical facilities around the world, it is crucial to reduce hospital-acquired infections. This means that health officials are attempting to find new ways of decreasing the exposure of human personnel to infection. Considering the global crisis, self-driving Danish disinfection robots have already been deployed in the fight against COVID-19 at a number of hospitals in China. How do they improve a cleaning routine? ‘With ultraviolet light, the Danish robot can disinfect and kill viruses and bacteria autonomously, effectively limiting the spread of coronaviruses without exposing hospital staff to the risk of infection.’ As the coronavirus outbreak continues to grow, thousands of healthcare workers have been impacted and have themselves become COVID-19 cases, mainly because they are on the front line of the battle. Healthcare personnel are thus at high risk and social innovations such as UVD Robots have devised ‘escape plans’ to protect medical staff from becoming patients themselves.
Battling a pandemic as serious as COVID-19 requires drastic measures, as health and safety comes first. Coles and Woolworths, Australia’s leading supermarkets and consumer services chains, have been urged to expand their measures allowing vulnerable Australians and people with disabilities access to food and other essential items during these testing times. Coles has stepped up cleaning and sanitation throughout its stores and is advising customers on how to protect themselves from exposure to the virus during their shopping routine. To ensure all customers have access to necessities, Coles has imposed purchase limits and established a community hour, 7–8 am Monday to Friday, for elderly or vulnerable people in Australia that are unable to access supermarkets, with several charities also ready to assist in joining efforts throughout the country. Woolworths has launched a new initiative to increase grocery home deliveries to assist those in need and reduced the trading hours at several of its stores to support the prioritisation of deliveries to vulnerable customers. Societal challenges require transformative solutions and such acts are a reminder of the importance of social innovation for the common good.
Drive-Through Coronavirus Tests
COVID-19 has impacted civilisation faster and harder than anything else humanity has experienced since the beginning of the 20th century. South Korea, in an attempt to trace, test and treat the virus, found an innovative way to improve surveillance and reduce pressure on emergency rooms during the pandemic. The East Asian nation was a pioneer in the creation of coronavirus drive-through testing stations in response to the global spread of the virus. How does it work? Drivers pull in to a parking lot where they are met by healthcare personnel dressed in hazmat suits. ‘Motorists then drive to several stations where nurses in protective plastic suits, masks and face shields register drivers, check their temperatures, and use swabs to take samples from their throats and nasal passages.’ This novel solution was later adopted by other countries, including Australia, the US, Canada, Germany and many more. Fun fact? The inspiration for this innovation was the drive-through counters at McDonald’s and Starbucks.
Virtual Museum Tours
Schools worldwide are closing because of the coronavirus outbreak and parents are working hard to come up with educational, creative and entertaining ways to keep them engaged during lockdowns. However, facing quarantine, whether you have children or not, a whole new culture has emerged based on coronavirus confinement. Famed museums, from the Athens Archaeological Museum in Greece to Rome’s Vatican Museum in Italy, are offering online experiences that allow viewers to learn about their exhibits, all from the comfort of the couch. Take a virtual field trip and explore the Winged Victory of Samothrace, Mona Lisa and Venus of Milo at the Paris Louvre Museum, or maybe enjoy a couple of virtual reality tours of New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Several museums have already started providing online experiences for free. This is a concrete social innovation example as it nurtures people’s education, mental health and community development. Who misses the echoing halls, self-guided audio tours and flood of tourists after all? I don’t!
Community-led and Grassroot Initiatives
COVID-19 is reshaping the way people think about communities and with many of our countries facing unprecedented challenges, the strain on governments is extreme. People all around the globe have been impacted directly or indirectly by the novel virus – through acquiring it, being forced to stay at home, losing their jobs or even a loved one – and our interdependence is clear to see. That’s where the following social innovation examples come in. MOVID19 understood the great challenge of providing a good public transport service in Bogota, without putting passengers at risk of contagion, and created a #hackaton to find solutions. Frena la curva (Stop the curve) is a community initiative launched by the Open Government Lab of Aragon (LAAAB) in Spain that links those in need with others who can provide a different kind of support in several spheres (e.g. from contributing ideas to experimentation and collaboration, to donating materials and innovating to adjust to the drastic changes). COVID-19 SPRINT brings together multiple teams that work virtually across Israel (and worldwide) to solve challenges associated with COVID-19. Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK is entirely run by volunteers that support local community groups in organising mutual aid during the pandemic in the UK.
Are you aware of other social innovations for the COVID-19 outbreak? Let us know so we can share these too.
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