Covid-19: Chinese government launches new tech database

By Sarah Dai

The Chinese government is compiling a database of technologies that can be used to combat the novel coronavirus after its top leadership highlighted the increasing importance of tech in bringing the disease under control at home.

Officials have compiled a list of more than 2,000 “new technologies” and their providers, ranging from automatic temperature detection to diagnosis and hospital information systems, according to a post by the Ministry of Science and Technology on Monday.

The ministry plans to proliferate technology-based applications among hospitals and communities, which have been on the frontlines of the outbreak, as well as to companies which are now coping with the aftermath of a nearly two month-long lockdown.

An initial list of 283 technology products was published on a ministry website earlier this month, covering solutions for diagnosis and treatment of the virus, construction of hospital information systems, as well as delivery systems for necessary supplies and disinfection services, according to the post.

The efforts aim to “encourage adoption and application of new technologies in a compliant and effective manner” and support outbreak prevention and business resumption, said the ministry.

The pooling of technologies into a single platform comes amid Chinese president Xi Jinping’s call for science and technology to provide “strong backing” in fighting the virus, according to an article in Qiushi magazine on Sunday.

Positive progress has been made over the past month as China coordinated 12 state departments to devise treatment plans, carry out research into vaccines and construct epidemiology and viral pathology models, Xi wrote in the article. “Throughout mankind’s history, science and technology [has been] the most powerful weapon in the battle against diseases,” he said. “To conquer big disasters and epidemics, humans cannot live without technological development or innovation.”

Xi called for collective efforts across the country to speed up research into life sciences, biological technologies, medicine and health care equipment, and step up capabilities in outbreak prevention and public health systems.

In a meeting with China’s top policymaking body, the Politburo Standing Committee, the president earlier this month called for acceleration in the construction of “new infrastructures such as 5G networks and data centres” to help stimulate growth as the country copes with the economic impact caused by the outbreak.

The use of AI and other technologies has surged as China taps into autonomous solutions ranging from robotic cleaners to voice assistants to help contain the deadly and fast-spreading virus.

Chinese artificial intelligence start-up Yitu Technology, telecommunications supplier Huawei Technologies and Alibaba Group – the parent company of the South China Morning Post – have offered AI-backed services to help analyse the computerised axial tomography (CAT) scans used by hospitals to diagnose patients suspected to have the coronavirus.

China’s Tianhe-1 supercomputer can process hundreds of CAT scan images and provide diagnosis for coronavirus in about 10 seconds, according to the National Supercomputer Centre in Tianjin, host facility for the machine.

The system, which is being made available to doctors around the world, claims an accuracy rate of over 80 per cent and the rate is steadily increasing every day, according to an employee at the facility.

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