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Big Data Analytics and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Big Data Covid
Published on May 01, 2020

The innovation of frontier technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data analytics etc has enabled mankind such that it can predict as well as combat deadly diseases to a great extent. The democratization of data and analytics tools allows for information to be shared  quickly via the internet.  This has enabled the healthcare industry to glean actionable insights on disease spread swiftly, thereby empowering them to make informed decisions in the face of disease outbreaks. In the present times, COVID-19 is a relevant example vis a vis the above. Other examples include Ebola and HIV. 

Truth be told, big data analytics hasn’t come into play after the invention of advanced technologies. It has been there for decades now and its accomplishments date back to 1850 when London was grappling against the Cholera spread. 

Big Data for pandemic analytics 

COVID-19 is not the first pandemic and is not likely to be the last. In times of unforeseen adversity such as Coronavirus, data and advanced technologies are the only means to combat fast-spreading flu for which vaccines are yet unknown. Through the right analytics capabilities,  healthcare professionals can examine millions of data points  quickly  and study the protein combinations of deadly, contagious viruses in no time. Even more, they can predict how the viruses may mutate over time. In the absence of technological advancements like AI, Machine Learning, and Big data analytics, it may take years for them to complete the research on the pandemics or any other contagious viruses for that matter.  

The perfect example to illustrate the benefits of big data analytics, artificial  intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing is the  report published by BlueDot, a Canadian AI startup, on Dec 21, 2019. The AI system assessed behemoth data across articles in 65 languages and animal and plant disease networks. It then sent alerts regarding the novel  Coronavirus even before WHO has alerted about the pandemic. 

While human-machine synergy in the healthcare space has been the need of the hour, AI and ML are instrumental in developing drugs for the novel  Coronavirus. Through automation and its deep learning capabilities, AI is helping medical researchers reduce the drug development timeline for the present-day pandemic. Scientists believe that AI will be able to detect early signs of coronavirus in patients in the future.

Taiwan: A real-time paradigm that illustrated the capabilities of Data Science and Big Data analytics 

The origination of the COVID-19 pandemic in China led to the speculation  that Taiwan would be heavily hit by the coronavirus outbreak. The two reasons for this presumption are Taiwan’s proximity to China and the  hight travel frequency between the two nations. However, Taiwan’s  experience with the 2003 SARS outbreak and the robust pandemic plans crafted after the calamity has helped the country to tackle the current-day COVID-19 pandemic successfully. 

Taiwan leveraged the capabilities of big data analytics and communication technologies to predict and proactively guide their citizens in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. They combined the data from the national health insurance database with immigration and customs database to get real-time alerts regarding possibly infected people and trace the spread of the lethal virus. Furthermore, they launched a toll-free hotline for citizens to clarify their queries or report suspicious symptoms.  

The QR code scanning along with the online reporting of travel and health symptoms was a smart move that gained them access to surplus data which is vital to analyse and classify travelers’ infection risks in real-time. Taiwan’s quick response to WHO’s broadcast regarding the spread of Pneumonia (from unknown causes) on Dec 31, 2019 which was done with the aid of advanced technologies was the key reason for their success in containing the spread of the Coronavirus.  

COVID-19 will accelerate Digital Transformation trends 

Though COVID-19 has disrupted normalcy for humanity and created havoc in the economy, the pandemics crisis has underscored the importance and potential of breakthrough technologies such as AI, ML, and data analytics in the face of an unseen catastrophe. Industries will embrace digital transformation proactively as the coronavirus crisis has  highlighted  the power of digitization against fighting unexpected health crises. 

Finally, the sum of innovation of humanity will for sure empower nations to put an end to the pandemic as soon as possible, while also educating them on how to endure such circumstances efficiently going forward.