The fourth wave of the COVID-19 epidemic is unpredictable and unstable, it is inevitable that the public is experiencing anti-epidemic fatigue. The epidemic has lasted for a year, do we have a more effective prevention method? I believe the key is to make good use of advanced technology, especially in tracing infections that do not have a known source. In fact, the government has already been equipped with sophisticated software and hardware. All we need is to use them flexibly, which will definitely help curb the epidemic.
There was a small outbreak in Princess Margaret Hospital earlier. The cause may be related to the first confirmed employee living in the building that has a confirmed case. On a radio interview earlier, Dr Ho, Pak-Leung, Director of the HKU Carol Yu Centre for Infection said, “The Hospital Authority (HA) and various government departments should make good use of the internal electronic platform for communication". That means when there are confirmed cases in a building, HA should alert employees living in the affected building to do the virus test as soon as possible to prevent the virus from breaking out in the hospital. He really made a point.
In fact, the government already has these advanced electronic platforms that can help coordinate and exchange information. For example, early in 2019, the Civil Engineering and Development Department has developed a map-based interface Common Operational Picture (COP) to share and exchange real time information with various departments on emergency incidents, such as landslide, flooding caused by heavy rainfall, sea water inundation caused by storm, and major road accidents, with supplementary information, such as weather and traffic update. All the information was displayed on an electronic map for easy understanding. COP facilitates priority setting and division of labour among government departments, through mobile and desktop computer applications as well as cloud technology, each department can use the platform in a reliable and safe manner.
With the advanced tool, more than 30 bureaux, departments and external parties involved in the handling of natural disasters took part in a pre-typhoon table-top exercise last year. The exercise simulated a super typhoon scenario to test the response and recovery capabilities as well as the decision-making process and interoperability of relevant parties, so as to better protect citizens’ lives and properties and help them resume their daily lives promptly.
Based on the same principle, the government can use the COP platform to fight the epidemic. Every day, HA can compare the residential address of its medical personnel with the residences of people who have been newly tested positive for the virus, and notifies more than 160 medical institutions with the COP, including public hospitals and clinics, then those possible hidden infected among the over 80,000 employees can be quickly found. Further, the authority should follow Professor Ho’s suggestion to mobilize more civil servants to speed up case tracking, follow up with people who are tested positive and trace close contacts, instead of purely focusing on the confirmed patients. The two-pronged approach can effectively stop the second-layer transmission and reduce the risk of outbreak in hospitals and communities.
Top priority at the moment: the authority must use existing resources and advanced technology more flexibly to terminate the fourth wave of epidemic.
Dr. Winnie Tang
Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong