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Life in the Time of Coronavirus: How China is Using Digital Technology to Shine a Light Amid the Gloom of Covid-19

Since the start of 2020, countries across Asia have been living and coping with interruptions caused by the outbreak of COVID-19. The good news is that the maturity and reliability of technology such as video conferencing services like Zoom, online collaboration and chat apps like Slack and many grocery and food delivery apps have helped us continue living and working in a way that wouldn’t have been possible just five years ago.

Innovative technology companies have come up with and are working on solutions to get us through this difficult period. Below is a collection of references that showcase how digital technology can be a beacon enabling society to continue functioning during this outbreak. Hope they spark an idea for a story and if you are interested in any topics listed, please feel free to contact us for further commentary from Alipay.

PART 1 – Getting life back to normal

Living with a global virus outbreak is hard. But with perseverance and a lot of creativity, Chinese technology companies are showing how daily life can be close to normal as can be, without the need to get physical. Here’s a list of how virtual life in China has been like in these times of Covid-19.

WORK

Remote work and education have thrived during this period. In China, millions of workers are using collaborative tools including Alibaba’s DingTalk, Tencent’s WeChat Work and Meeting, ByteDance’s Feishu and Huawei’s WeLink. These tools have also added new features including new quotas for video conference participants and call times, online health check-ins and industry-specific solutions.

On March 5, MYbank, an online private commercial bank for small business under Ant Financial announced it jointly launched "Contactless Loans" in partnership with 100 Chinese banks, and leading industry organisations, aimed at supporting 10 million #SMEs, individual businesses, and farmers across China. Through the "310" lending model pioneered by Alipay and MYbank, loans take 3 minutes to apply on the mobile phone, approvals can be given within 1 second, and all this with zero manual intervention. For entrepreneurs, this gives easy access to the funding they need to get through the outbreak, without the need to travel to a branch in person.

LIVE

With the spread of the virus fueling online rumours, Ding Xiang Yuan, a popular Chinese online content provider backed by a group of professional medical practitioners, has stood on the frontline to offer professional medical information, provide online medical checks for users and combat virus-related rumours. Additionally, Yikuang, a WeChat-based service developed by independent developers and app review site, Sspai.com, is helping to map neighbourhoods with confirmed cases using official data from local governments.

PLAY AND LEARN

Millions of Chinese students are being forced to stay at home for an extended period of time, but digital technology is making sure they are not missing the opportunity to learn. On February 10, the first day of school after the CNY break, over 50 million students from more than 300 Chinese cities participated in the Online Classroom Program initiated by DingTalk and Youku, allowing more than 600,000 teachers to deliver their lessons via livestreaming.

PART 2 – Fighting the Covid-19

As the rest of China tries to get their daily life back to normal, Chinese technology companies are also putting their best innovations to work to help those at the frontlines fighting the coronavirus, with solutions aimed at preventing its further spread, and to seek a cure.

Alibaba’s research institute, Damo Academy has developed a new AI-powered diagnosis system to detect new coronavirus cases via computerized tomography scans. Researches have trained the AI model with sample data from more than 5,000 confirmed cases, adding that the system could identify differences in CT scans between patients infected with the COVID-19 virus and those with ordinary viral pneumonia, with an accuracy of up to 96%.

Alibaba Cloud has made its AI computing capabilities free to global public research institutions to help expedite virus gene sequencing, new drug R&D and protein screenings. Baidu opened its Smart Cloud Tiangong IoT platform to epidemic prevention-related projects and national epidemic prevention enterprises. And Tencent opened up its supercomputing facilities to help researchers working on a cure.

Chinese drone maker DJI uses its agricultural spraying drones to spray disinfectant in potentially affected areas. Also, loudspeakers were mounted on drones to help disperse public gatherings in crowded places. Drones flew banners advising people how to learn more about precautions. Thermal cameras on drones were also used to monitor body temperature so medical staff can identify new potential cases.

Blockchain technology is being used to ensure front-line medical workers in Hubei Province are getting the donations of face masks, medical materials, and cash that they badly need through a new blockchain-based donation tracking platform Shanzong, initiated by start-up Hyperchain and China Xiong'an Group. The online mutual aid platform Xiang Hu Bao, owned by Ant Financial, is also using blockchain technology to fast track claims payouts after adding Covid-19 as a critical illness eligible for a maximum one-time payout of 100,000 yuan (US$14,320).

PART 3 – Fun stuff

With an inflection point in the Covid-19 predicted to be somewhere around the corner, more of China’s netizens are also shaking off of the gloom brought by Covid-19, searching for creative new ways to enjoy themselves through digital technology.

In Beijing, a brewpub called Jing-A Brewing Co. said it is remaining open but only for takeaway orders, deliveries to peoples’ residences and refills when people bring their own beer containers, known as growlers. The bar, which has a couple of locations in the Chinese capital, said it has extended its delivery hours from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Beijing time. Users can order through online delivery platform Meituan. Jing-A is offering deals on its beer delivery.

In Thailand, Robots and 5G have joined to contain the Covid-19 crisis in a joint undertaking by Advanced Info Service (AIS) and Chulalongkorn University. 5G has been used to enhance the capabilities of the medical robots. The robots monitor symptoms among people suspected of being infected and tend to those confirmed as infected. With the emergence of Covid-19, they were modified to help doctors and nurses take care of people infected or suspected of infection.