By now, there are a lot of articles regarding or relating to the pandemic plastered all over the internet. Since the outbreak, millions of Instagram and Facebook posts regarding the virus have gone up, countless tweets are up per second over the pandemic. Youtube, LinkedIn, Tiktok, Snapchat, Google, Yahoo and so many other digital platforms upon logging in, have outlined guidelines regarding the virus urging it’s visitors and users to take precautionary measures against the COVID-19 virus.
The information is everywhere, all the way into your Daily Whatsapp and Messages. All this, has stirred mixed reactions from people, as some take head to the measures, while some claim it is overwhelming and exaggerated to instill fear in the community. But how about we all just stop for once, and ask ourselves, what if we were hit by the pandemic without the presence of Big Tech? How would we fair?
Honestly, I never even stopped thinking about it, why? It is because, I, like many of us, belong to a group that has been fortunate and priviledged enough to grow with the Internet, to an extent of overlooking sometimes, believing it was there by default. This, however, cannot be more further from the truth, as it was not until the late 1980s, entering 1990s that the Internet found it’s voice, especially after the World Wide Web (www) was created in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee. It was then, when I started imagining fairing the pandemic without the Big Tech, across various sectors that we interact with often;
THE INFORMATION PART
When the outbreak first started spreading across continents, most of us relied on Google searches, to educate ourselves on better measures to undertake individually, and as a community to prevent and curb COVID-19 spread. Big Tech Companies mobilized their resources to ensure people are educated on the disease either through pop up ads, guidelines appearing on their platform’s headers or timely information they would give via blast emails and their analytics.
From April 3, 2020, Google mobilized insights it gather from products such as Google Maps to start issuing the Community Mobility Reports that entails movements of people across different areas including retail, recreation, groceries, parks, work places, residential areas and even transit stations. The reports availabe for download on their website, covers movement data of the past 48 or 72 hours of over 130 countries. Such insights have been helpful to assist public health officials make timely decisions on measures to undertake to contain the pandemic and curb the spread.
Platforms like LinkedIn, all offer updated facts on the COVID-19 virus, as per the region the user belongs to. A simple search of COVID-19, will return over 6 million results relating to the topic, and offer a link to access latest information about the pandemic from official trusted sources.
Other platforms like Twitter, gives you option to follow the topic, so as you can get information around the subject, whereas, based on the research conducted by Catherine Ordun, Sanjay Purushotham and Edward Raff titled “Exploratory Analysis of COVID-19 Tweets using Topic Modelling, UMAP and DiGraphs”, estimating tweets about the COVID-19 pandemic to be over 30 million in numbers, from January to March 2020.
A simple search on Instagram shows you over 35 million posts about the topic, and gives you a link to the Health Ministry Website of your country, so as one can easily access latest information on the pandemic. Youtube also gives you access to links that direct you the World Health Organization (WHO), were information and various questions tabout the virus have been addressed by well re-known scientists and researchers.
So what exactly am I saying?
The Big Tech has enabled for latest updates, facts and information about the pandemic to be shared easily and timely just by a click of the finger on your smart phone. It has allowed people from different parts of the world to share their experiences about the pandemic and how their countries are fighting the virus. The clear rules of Social Distancing, wearing masks and washing hands has been spread across the world easily through the connectivity enabled by the Big Tech.
More than three (3) decades ago, that would have been a challenge.People would be waiting on Cable Television News or radio to educate them on the pandemic, information which would not be instant, as the news would be collected for airing later on the night, or during a particular radio slot allocated time. Now the WHO publishes updates regarding the pandemic on their website, or hold press conferences, knowingly that it will reach the public, as people can easily access their website, share the link on their social platforms, emails or simply on Whatsapp. In event, the web would not be there, perhaps they would have been obligated to use traditional means such as post office, or go to door to door to educate households or the community. And just imagine, in a world population estimated to be about 7.8 billion people, how long will that take?
The importance of healthcare is magnified during times like these, and even more how technology has been able to revamp the health sector can not be highlighted enough. The emergence of pandemics such as Spanish Flu in the 1918, which started in Europe, America and Asia then later on spread to the rest of the world, is an example of how the technology available at that time was slow to enable the development of a vaccine to curb the infection. The estimate of the deaths attributed by the flue are to a count of 20 to 50 million people, however some sources bring the death toll to as high as 100 million people. It was not until the 1940’s were Thomas Francis Jr. and Jonas Stalk developed functional vaccines for the pandemic, almost 20 years later. The tech was slow that it took almost 90 years, in 2008, for researchers to announce their discovery on what made the flu so deadly. “A group of three genes enabled the virus to weaken a victim’s bronchial tubes and lungs and clear the way for bacterial pneumonia”.
Due to Modern technology however, our experience with COVID-19 has been different. When The Wuhan Municipal Comission reported the cluster cases of “Pneumonia” in Wuhan on December 31, by January 7 (a week later), China had identified the pathogen responsible for the outbreak, 4 days later on January 11, genetic code of the virus was identified and made public the following day. The technology enabled them to start acting quickly and engage in mass production of test kits to identify the infected people in the community.
Despite this early action, the WHO took it’s time to declare COVID-19 a pandemic, almost two months later, which attributed to the widespread all over the world. However, when the state of emergency was issued, most countries took notice of closing their borders, mass producing testing kits and started researching on possible vaccines.
Today, almost three months later United States of America (USA) have chosen five companies to spearhead the vacine development process. Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Pfizer will all receive federal funding to support their vaccine programs, whereas, the first three of the batch have already received $2.2 billion. In addition, the government will offer manufacturing, help in running the clinical trials, financial and logistic support in event the vaccines will develop. The FDA has already approved Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate for Phase 2 Clinical trials, assuming all things goes well, the vaccine efficacy data pending FDA approval may be ready by November, at the end of the year.
In Germany, human clinical trials by BioNTech, of a possible vaccine began as early as late April on 200 partcipants aged 18 to 55. With Modern Technology, vaccines have evolved from Inactivated Vaccines (with fewer side effects), Live Attenuated Vaccines (where as a weakened portion of the virus is introduced into the body, to produce infection wit no symptoms hence tricking the body to produce an immune response similar to natural infection, without attributing to any illness nor further spread to others), to Conjugate Vaccine (uses specific protein isolated for further processing, that would make them possible vaccines to induce immune response).
The advancement of technology has allowed companies like Moderna to employ Messenger ribonucleic acids (mRNAs), where as this technology enables cells to use DNA as a platform to make mRNAs molecules, which are then translated to build proteins, introduced as a strand in the body that codes for a disease-specific antigen, where the antigen produced using genetic information, is displayed on cell surface ready to fight infections.
The tech used in RNAs has enabled for safety, efficacy and mass production. The vaccines are safe as they are non-infectious, well received by healthy individuals and can be produced massly in response to outbreaks. As a result, such tech has been employed to produce vaccines against emerging diseases such as Ebola, Zika and the pandemic threat that is COVID-19. It has allowed for nations to produce Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs) for their frontline workers at a mass scale so as to protect them against infection when they are attending the patients.
If technology we have now did not exist, the protective gears our health workers use, would be of poor condition, putting them at a risk of getting an infection from the patients they attend to. We would still be relying on Live Attenuated vaccines, which take a long time to make and get approved for, and mostly would be unsafe. This mainly because, the demand of the vaccine to be urgent and demanded by many in response to the pandemic that still affects people and kill some. Hence, upon speeding up the process, the vaccines might not yet be ready and might pose serious side effects to all those who have undergone it.
The biggest flex of technology amid the pandemic we are living in now, is how work has been revamped to adhere to the rules of social distancing, in a bid to prevent more infections. Working from home has been made easy through video software technology powered by companies such as Microsoft through Teams and Skype, Zoom has also evolved as a major contender and a clear market leader, Google Duo, Facebook Calls and so many other options.
During this lockdown, team leaders have managed to organize their people, oversee and track their activities to ensure tasks and assignments are completed within agreed timelines. Working from home has grown from being a necessity to the new normal.
If the technology we enjoy now, was not available for many, businesses would have to shut down completely or people would be obligated to still report for work despite risking their lives, just to ensure the business survives.
Nevertheless, the advanced technology that is available now has not managed to save the lives of some businesses during the pandemic. Service oriented businesses such as Transport using airlines or ride hailing have suffered the most, as a result of restrictions in movements while delivering services such as Amazon have seared, as most of us resorted to online shopping due to most shops being closed as part of the lockdown measures.
One can argue that retail was already in decline before the pandemic, and that the virus just spearheaded the process. The lockdown tapped into the new wave, as most retailers were forced to focus on their digital sales as a driver for income. Nike saw a dent in their retail sales as a result of the virus, hence prompting their decision to make half of their business (50%) be online in the next two years. In their defense, the decision to move most of their business digital, started few years ago, as seen in the stats where growth of digital sales recorded at 15% in 2019, to where they stand now, at 30% of their total sales being digital.
Big Tech like Amazon has emerged to be owners of a resilient business module, posting Q1 Revenue of about $75.5 billion as a result of the their delivery services that most people tend to navigate towards. As soon as orders were placed, the online giant, went out of its way to make sure the package arrives in two to three days, updating you on the status of the delivery throughout the entire process, so as a customer, one can plan to be at home to receive the package as per estimated delivery time. The beauty of Amazon is, you can get anything online, from books, baby stuffs, clothes, tools, electronics, appliances to software, you name it, they have it, or better yet they will have it re-stocked in a few days due to it being sold out.
Shopify has also promoted many e-commerce businesses to growth during this period, as their platform host various online businesses selling different products such as shoes, clothes, furnitures, towels, accessories, mattresses, pillows and so many forth.
Technology has made most retailers shift their businesses from physical stores to online stores. Banks have even fronted online platforms to ensure clients are served and employees lives are not at a risk of infections. Some even implemented the rotation shifts, that allowed a minimum number of employees physically present at the premises, while others (whose work merely require client interaction), could continue working from the comfort of their homes. In event, when this technology would not exist during a lockdown period, we as individuals would not have the access to products we needed, when we needed them.
Bottom line is, a pandemic without technology would have been hard to maneuver and stay clear of infections. As tech has played a key role in mobilizing people to undertake necessary measures to not contract the disease. Furthermore, contribution towards different food programs and food banks has been made easier, so as to feed millions of people who cannot afford food on their own as a result of being laid off or struggling to make ends meet. People of all walks of life including athletes, actors, artists and even business moguls led the charge of these donations by opening their wallets, writing large handsome cheques, while others swiping their cards or just through paypal method, to ensure donations are met.
Most importantly, the number of infections would be much higher than the ones we see now, because majority of people would not have access to information on how to prevent, curb and contain the infections. The WHO would have a much harder burden on delivering their communications regarding transmission modes and precautionary measures to undertake to ensure many people are not affected. Even more, vaccines would take years to come up with, after so many clinical trials, compared to currently, were a vaccine is expected to hit the market in the next two year period. The production of ventilators to ensure patients are supplied with adequate air in their lungs, would also have been a myth, as the process would be slow, hence not sufficing the high demand emanating from the hospitals. Patients would probably rely on their own immunity to fight against the virus, for which, in a situation the body fails to do so, it would likely have resulted to the death of many, more than the current death toll.