The new strain of the COVID-19 virus was first discovered in South East Asia when a 45-person cluster got infected in Malaysia from a traveller who returned from India and breached his 14-day quarantine. The Philippines detected the strain among random COVID-19 samples in the largest city of its capital region. Since then, the world has been struggling to cope with the mutation that seems to be far more infectious.
The mutation called D614G makes a small but effective change in the virus’s spike protein, which the virus uses to enter the human cell. “The mutation is said to have a higher possibility of transmission or infectiousness, but we still don’t have enough solid evidence to say that that will happen,” Philippines’ Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual briefing.
The strain has been found in many other countries and has become the predominant variant in Europe and the US but the World Health Organization says there is no evidence the strain leads to more severe disease.
There’s no evidence from the epidemiology that the mutation is considerably more infectious than other strains, said Benjamin Cowling, head of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Hong Kong. “It’s more commonly identified now than it was in the past, which suggests that it might have some kind of competitive advantage over other strains of Covid-19.”
Managing the pandemic at a national and global level is extremely difficult at it is being done in an environment cynicism of public health institutions. Data breaches of hospitals, health facilities and similar databases have been a fairly regular occurrence.
National responses to outbreaks vary greatly from country to country and there have been conflicting messages between leaders, health agencies and experts. These have fostered increased concern and confusion in the wider population. As Southeast Asian countries take various steps to prevent a resurgence while reopening limited travel, they struggle with people breaching quarantine rules after returning from overseas as well as false-negative test results at borders.
The delays in rolling out available vaccines and the discovery of new strains have forced a number to countries to go into lockdowns again and enforce stricter social distancing norms and restrictions.
In an increasingly tech-dependent and tech-driven world, it is pertinent that the healthcare sector explores new technologies to provide information, options and advice. Citizens need safe and secure solutions that can help them track, monitor and manage risk from the virus and also help them go out for work and fulfil essential tasks of daily life.
Novel technologies and platforms, of course, have been launched to help inform citizens on testing, care and movement. The most well-known of these would be contact tracing and symptom-reporting apps, some of which are increasingly being deployed by local and national public health agencies.
Liberty and Passage is one such solution for this persisting problem. Developed by Access Anywhere, the total outbreak management system combines several cutting edge technologies on one platform that can be used across various sectors including airports, cruise lines, immigration and tourism boards. It is a useful tool for all industries to restart their business.
Using AI and ML, Liberty & Passage has been designed to help provide relevant timely information and build the confidence required to restart free movement between countries and continents, giving travellers when crossing borders and authority’s confidence when processing foreign visitors at customs.
With these critical features, Liberty & Passage is an outbreak management solution for individuals, organisations, and the entire travel industry.
The platform is designed for the entire population with Liberty Open designed to manage personal risk, Liberty Corporate for organisations to ensure a safe return to work and Liberty Passage for travel and reopening of borders. Everyone gains from the vast insights the system provides to be able to go about their normal lives while keeping as safe as possible against this virulent threat.
By joining the three pillars together, ‘the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts’ giving the general public, employees and travellers freedom to move with confidence and a more intelligent understanding of their risk exposure using cutting edge technology.
Tech innovation is helping to manage the pandemic and better equip countries when dealing with the current public health emergency and for future public health emergencies. Outbreak management systems will be the key in building confidence, mitigating risk and enhancing safety in everyday life.
For more information on how the Liberty Solution works – please visit www.libertyandpassage.com
Indonesia’s Ministry of Industry has been very supportive of the efforts of other ministries and institutions that have been proactive in using industrial technology 4.0 to support their activities to be more productive and efficient. A prime example of this is the Indonesian National Police (Polri) who are implementing the Police 4.0 programme under the National Police Chief, Komjen Listyo Sigit Prabowo.
Speaking at a programme in Jakarta, Director General of Metal, Machinery, Transportation and Electronics Industry (ILMATE), Taufiek Bawazier reacted positively to the Police 4.0 programme plan, as it is in line with the Making Indonesia 4.0 road map priority program which also supports the electronics and telematics industry sector.
The minister was confident that digital transformation in the police department would have a positive impact on innovation and growth in the domestic industrial sector, especially industries producing hardware and software for artificial intelligence (AI).
The use of AI technology in the police, such as Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) goes a long way in reducing the burden on the police in monitoring road violations. Additionally, the use of surveillance equipment and drones can assist the police in reducing crime rates and providing effective services to the public more optimally. Deployment of technology not only facilitates better citizen-services but can be a driver for the domestic industry that produces and manages such technology solutions.
“This programme provides an opportunity for the nation’s citizens to make software and hardware applications in accordance with the needs of the Police,” said Taufiek.
The Director General of ILMATE said that the domestic electronic industry is committed in its support of the police create Police 4.0. He firmly believes that the Indonesian police would be able to take advantage of the tech developments in the Industrial 4.0.
For example, Thermal Imaging to assist in dark conditions, biometric applications to reveal fingerprints and DNA and the use of GPS for shot spotting in case of a shooting. In addition, he agreed that the use of facial recognition is to be able to speed up identification while analytics can aid in resolving problems in the field. The role of the camera and robotics industry, according to Taufiek, should also be strategically utilised by the police. Equipping cameras in the field that are connected to the head office will provide efficiency in the work of the police and to provide better community services. He believes that the readiness of big data and a secure cloud must be a priority if AI-enabled solutions are to be implemented by the police.
Responding to concerns that Police 4.0 would contribute to job losses and in a reduction of police personnel, Bawazier actually feels that the program would increase the number of jobs in the police and the nation.
He emphasised that the tech-readiness of the National Police would only be possible if supported by competent human resource. Relevant training must be made available so that the application of police technology is sustainable. Professionals, skilled manpower and experts in technology would be needed to implement and deploy Police 4.0.
Further, skilled tech workers are essential for providers in the industrial sector continue to innovate and effectively supply products, solutions and technology for the service needs of the police. New technology, digital products and solutions will create a large number of new job opportunities.
Eight Hong Kong universities are in line for grants totalling HK$165 million aimed at developing better virtual teaching methods, which are anticipated to become part of the “new normal” in coming years.
Online teaching was widely adopted amid the coronavirus pandemic as schools suspended face-to-face classes for months at a time to avoid infections. But the University Grants Committee (UGC), which funds the city’s public institutions of higher education, noted along with its Quality Assurance Council (QAC) on Thursday that they believed schools would continue to make use of virtual methods to enhance teaching and learning even after the pandemic ended.
The additional HK$165 million would be allocated to the eight universities funded by the committee to facilitate more systematic collaboration to promote the strategic development of virtual teaching and learning, a spokesman said.
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) recently announced that they welcomed the additional funding launched by the University Grants Committee (UGC) and the Quality Assurance Council (QAC) for universities to promote the development of virtual teaching and learning (VTL).
Over the years, PolyU has laid a solid foundation for VTL. In response to this new initiative, PolyU will actively propose innovative solutions, and continue to strive in acquiring more resources to promote the University’s development of VTL.
To address the long-term teaching and learning needs, our initial plans include: developing exemplary real-time delivery of online academic programmes and new paradigms of online teaching, as well as initiating VTL-related research.
In light of the ongoing pandemic situation, PolyU has been using different online teaching and learning platforms, while constantly upgrading its classroom facilities and providing training and technical support to staff and students to accommodate online and synchronous teaching. PolyU is also committed to digital transformation – some examples include building a teaching and learning centre that supplies e-learning resources and developing new online teaching solutions, such as using virtual reality (VR) technology in teaching and establishing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
PolyU has furthermore dedicated its efforts in developing several online science experiment platforms in recent years, including the newly launched “Borderless Lab 365”. The platform enables students to perform real-time science experiments remotely anywhere and anytime, thereby significantly improving the effectiveness of teaching and learning. This innovative platform is not only being used by the students of PolyU but is also being deployed by various secondary schools. Feedback from teachers and students has been positive, this is a good testament to the competence of PolyU in effectively combining technology with teaching.
The Deputy President and Provost of PolyU stated, “The UGC and QAC attach great importance to promoting VTL, which is in line with PolyU’s strategic development. We hope that with this additional funding in place, PolyU can secure more resources to accelerate the progress of VTL, so as to enhance the overall experience and effectiveness of teaching and learning.”
Another university that received funding was The University of Hong Kong (HKU). A press release from the university stated that they also welcome the move by the UGC and the QAC to provide additional funding for universities’ virtual teaching and learning (VTL) initiatives.
The Vice-President (Teaching and Learning) stated, “In the past 15 months, HKU has engaged deeply with VTL as first the social unrest and then the pandemic moved much teaching and learning online. Additional funding from UGC will enable us to intensify our efforts to build on the many innovative practices developed by teachers and students throughout the campus. It will help us ensure that VTL is fully integrated into our strategic plans for T&L as we navigate the ‘new normal’ in the 2020s.”
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay (IIT-Bombay) have created an AI model to diagnose two species of malaria parasites by studying the changing trends of proteins in human blood. The project has been funded by the Department of Biotechnology.
According to a news report, the researchers recently developed proteomics technologies and made an artificial intelligence (AI)-based model in collaboration with three different hospitals across India. The model differentiates between two malaria parasites – P falciparum and P vivax – for better malaria diagnosis.
The researchers, from the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, collected blood samples for strains of P falciparum, P vivax, and dengue from across the country. Including the Medical College Hospital in Kolkata, Sardar Patel Medical College in Bikaner, and Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital in Mumbai, along with blood samples of healthy people. Then, the team created a dataset to train the AI model.
The dataset was analysed, and the researchers studied the protein levels from blood plasma against the severity of malaria to create quantifiable data. The majority of malaria cases in India come from the malaria-vulnerable population, including workers at construction sites in malaria-endemic regions. These are regions without a proper drainage system, leaving standing water for days to facilitate mosquito breeding.
Other parts of the malaria-vulnerable population include people without awareness of the harmful effects of the standing water in their localities during the malaria season. The main issues at the time of the disease are quick diagnostic aids, which describe the causative agent of the disease, a researcher from the study explained.
Currently, the team is focused on creating a prototype of a diagnostic kit so that the technology is available for the mass-detection of the disease. The kit can be used to compile these panels of proteins for diagnostics and prognostic purposes. Once this prototype is ready, the team will compare the kit with the currently used RDT kits. The study involves a panel of proteins, which will help in the reduction of false-positive and false-negative results.
Since 2000, India cut malaria cases by more than half and the number of malaria deaths by more than two-thirds. Ending malaria remains a top government priority. In 2016, India introduced its first National Framework for Malaria Elimination (2016-2030). In 2019, the government increased funding by more than 25% for the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme.
At present, malaria diagnosis is undertaken by manually studying the blood samples for the parasites which still has difficulty in determining the progress of the disease. In the case of malaria, P falciparum, P vivax and other species are not differentiable through RDTs and ideally need an expert eye along with intensive work of looking at 100 fields of blood smear using microscopy, the gold standard for malaria diagnosis, the researcher noted.
During malaria season, the number of cases is high, resulting in an increased burden on clinicians for manual diagnosis. If the diagnosis, along with the timely progression prediction from non-severe malaria cases to severe, before the development of clinical manifestations is made for clinicians, then the treatment can be specific and efficient.
The Northern Territory Government has awarded a $64.4 million tender for the Client Management Systems Alignment program, known as the Care System, to improve the care and protection of children in the state.
The Care System will enable different and necessary government agencies such as Police, Territory Families, Housing and Communities, Health, Education and Attorney General to access the same information, create the one case file and share critical information to best manage each child’s specific case.
The region’s Minister for Territory Families and Urban Housing said the new Care System will give frontline staff in child protection and youth justice the necessary tools to better protect vulnerable children.
The Minister stated, “We want to make sure all Northern Territory children have the best start in life. A total of 72% of Territory Families, Housing and Communities’ core business is recorded outside of our approved computer system which is more than 25 years old.”
A UK-based tech firm and local a Territory business IT company have been selected for the project, which will provide a modern digital tool to assist frontline workers in child protection, youth justice and service provision for the Northern Territory’s most vulnerable children. A local Territory digital company has been selected to undertake work on this project with a dedicated local team.
The Minister for Corporate and Digital Development said the IT overhaul is one of the biggest the NT has ever undertaken and will be supported by specialist IT practitioners from a range of local Territory digital businesses.
He noted that the IT firm has more than 25 years’ experience delivering information technology solutions and services in the Northern Territory, with a local team dedicated to this project.
The Care System will provide child protection and youth justice case management solution to equip the Northern Territory Government with a holistic view of the child and increase opportunities for early intervention.
The Care System will also enable frontline staff to access important information anytime and will improve the connection between non-government, private service providers, the community and the government to access and update information related to child wellbeing.
The project came about after the Royal Commission into the Detention and Protection of Children in the Northern Territory highlighted the limitations in current processes that support child protection and youth justice. In response, the Territory Government invested $64.4 million into the Care System to facilitate better information sharing and coordination.
The Minister for Territory Families and Urban Housing also noted that the creation of the Care System and the delivery of the program is all about it being based on the child. The NT government wants to make sure they are keeping up-to-date information on vulnerable families, so they can assist quickly and proactively.
The program is scheduled for completion in late 2022 and will improve the way Territory Families, Housing and Communities approaches child protection and youth justice, through a child-centric approach to systems and service delivery.
According to another article, The Department of Corporate and Digital Development (DCDD) is leading the project, formally known as the client management system alignment (CMSA) program, on behalf of Territory Families.
DCDD (then the Department of Corporate and Information Services) went looking for a new system in 2018 in response to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT. The Royal Commission identified systemic problems with the territory’s approach to child protection and youth justice, including limitations with several underpinning systems of record.
Systems of concern included the CCIS and the integrated offender management system (IOMS), neither of which ‘talked’ each other, as well as the police real-time online management system (PROMIS). The government said it expects the new Care system to improve “information sharing and coordination to ensure we are better protecting vulnerable children”.
Malaysia and Sweden have come together to introduce the Digital Health Innovation Challenge. Launched 15 January 2021, the Innovation Challenge invites start-ups registered in Malaysia to identify solutions in solving healthcare challenges, especially related to non-communicable diseases (NCD).
The initiative is a collaboration between Team Sweden, comprising of the Embassy of Sweden, Business Sweden and a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company; and Malaysian partners Sunway iLabs, Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) and Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).
The Innovation Challenge is aimed towards identifying solutions that can empower NCD patients and high-risk communities to proactively reduce the risk factors of these diseases by encouraging healthy living and increase accessibility, on top of introducing digital tools enabling self-care and monitoring.
Start-ups that are selected to participate will get access to incubation programmes, global innovation networks, mentorship and funding, as well as an opportunity to collaborate with the above partners to solve healthcare challenges in Malaysia.
The Swedish Trade Commissioner to Malaysia stated that the Digital Health Innovation Challenge is a great opportunity for start-ups to explore solutions from multiple angles and to work with partners to exchange knowledge and scale-up across borders.
Adding to this, the country president of the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company noted that empowering patients with innovative digital health care solutions and technologies is a major part of the firm’s focus. They believe that digital health is a means of making our health systems even more patient-centric.
For this reason, they engage in various partnerships to deliver next-generation health solutions. The Digital Health Innovation Challenge will certainly galvanise digital start-ups to develop new technologies and health care solutions that would meaningfully support our health system development and public health.
The Chief Innovation Officer of the Malaysian conglomerate company and its Innovation Labs director stated that it is important that the public and private sectors come together to solve societal problems.
“I believe that this initiative is a great example of how we can accelerate market-driven healthcare innovations from talented entrepreneurs by leveraging corporate testbeds and international networks,” he remarked.
The CEO of MaGIC added that collective participation and engagement from the government is needed – by its policy and mobilisation of resources; the private sector, which carries with it a wealth of expertise and scale to make a difference; and finally, the start-ups that are built to create impact and resolve these challenges through technology and innovation.
start-ups should take the opportunity to showcase their advantageous capabilities which are agile by design, and pivot during crucial times, she added.
For MDEC, healthtech is one of the key areas that the agency is looking to grow within its tech ecosystem. The CEO od MDEC stated that the challenge plays “a crucial role” in highlighting the capabilities of Malaysian healthtech start-ups.
“It also empowers them to create technological impact within the health industry that the pandemic is accelerating. By supporting programs like the Digital Health Innovation Challenge, MDEC will further ramp up the development and improvement of Malaysia’s healthtech ecosystem as part of the ongoing efforts to realise the vision of Malaysia 5.0 and establish Malaysia as the heart of digital ASEAN,” she concluded.
Applications for the Digital Health Innovation Challenge will be open from 15 January 2021 and will continue until 15 February 2021. Applicants must register with the Digital health Innovation Challenge Application Form and submit their proposal in accordance with the terms and conditions specified.
A Malaysia-based tech firm has developed a highway monitoring system that integrates artificial intelligence (AI) and smart technology in its Smart Surveillance System (S3). Its group chief executive officer stated that the move complements the company’s ongoing effort to increase the safety rate and satisfaction level of highway users. He noted that, in line with Industrial Revolution 4.0, the company is prioritising efficient ways of working by utilising technology.
Through the implementation of S3, the level of highway efficiency will be upgraded and the safety of drivers improved. S3 enables the monitoring and detection of accidents, foreign objects, wild animals, potholes, surface cracks and ponding. The system also covers problems such as water spots, guard rail and slope failure, liquid spillage and road signage damage.
It combines technologies like AI and machine learning to provide notification to the relevant parties for further action. Since the launch of S3 on 19 August 2020, 1,303 incidents were detected in the first month alone. So far, the S3 has helped operations in carrying out immediate rectification with the real-time notifications. Fifty per cent of surface damage and highway asset damage were detected by the system and repairs were made immediately.
To improve security and safety, the company uses the Artificial Intelligence System Analytics (Aisya). By leveraging dashboard cameras and computers installed in every highway patrol car, it is able to obtain images of damage and accidents immediately.
The input is then sent over a 4G network to a cloud server to classify, identify and determine the next move. Aisya will then process, classify, analyse and come out with a digital report before notifying on-duty officers through their mobile application or websites.
Additionally, another system was developed by the firm alongside its industry partners for the purpose of highway management operation. It is called Prime and assisted the company in maintenance scheduling and digitisation.
With innovative technologies such as these, the company will escalate highway surveillance operations to ensure highway safety and user satisfaction. With the opening of new highways this year, including Sungai Besi-Ulu Kelang Elevated Highway and Damansara-Shah Alam Elevated Highway, such digital applications can only mean a better and safer drive for highway users.
Tech to improve transport
Malaysia is working to push better traffic systems via technology. OpenGov Asia previously reported that the Malaysian government partnered a US-based GPS navigation software app to implement Bluetooth beacons across the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) highway and basement roads leading to car parks in the area.
The company will provide Bluetooth signals to improve navigation where GPS signals are limited, increase driver safety, and better visibility of real-time traffic events. Malaysia was the first in Southeast Asia to put Waze Beacons to the test.
The nation’s underground roads are an ideal test ground as they lead out to key exits, and it is expected the technology will enhance TRX’s level of services. Ensuring seamless connectivity is critical to support TRX’s status as an international financial hub.
Meanwhile, the Head of the Waze Beacons Program stated that the firm’s team is pleased to bring the Waze Beacons Program to Malaysia, the first Southeast Asian country to adopt the technology. Seamless navigation can be enjoyed in TRX when its underground roads are open to the public, but this is just the beginning and the aim is to expand into more areas nationwide across Malaysia soon.
A team led by Dr K.K.Y. Wong and Dr Y.K. Choi at the Department of Computer Science of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has designed and developed a multi-purpose IoT (Internet of Things) device named Stay Alert Stay Healthy (SASH) box which can be applied in multiple scenarios, providing a one-stop service for the public eager to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SASH box is built on the low-cost Raspberry Pi 4 which provides the computation resources necessary for hosting a lightweight server application as well as analysing the incoming data from its attached sensors.
It can be used to detect people with abnormal body temperature, whether they are wearing a face mask or not. It can also crawl updated COVID-19 information (e.g., locations of confirmed cases and required self-isolation cases) from government open databases to provide timely references for the general public.
The SASH box is equipped with LEDs, a speaker, and a consumer-grade thermal camera, enabling it to alert people to potential risks in the environment. The research team developed application components to enable it to operate as a multi-function device and a low-cost and effective solution for corporate and individual use.
Unlike hybrid thermal camera devices commonly used in the market, the SASH box is equipped with a single thermal camera but not RGB cameras to avoid compromising privacy. The team had collected and analysed over ten thousand thermal images and trained high-performance machine learning models to detect human faces with and without face masks using the low-resolution (120×160) thermal images captured from the device.
AI algorithms have also been developed for modulating detected temperatures to cater to temperature fluctuations in the surrounding environment and the hardware itself.
The SASH box is capable of retrieving up-to-date information, for example, COVID-19 cases, from online databases. The team is now developing speech recognition and text-to-voice capabilities in the device to provide easy accessibility for elderly people and people who are visually impaired.
Apart from working as a standalone gadget, the SASH box can also serve as a server and host useful applications for connecting devices. Users can easily retrieve information and monitor the environment in which a SASH box is located (e.g., households, classrooms, elderly homes, clinics, bus/taxi cabinets) in real-time by connecting their mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets from a remote site.
The design of the SASH box also allows ready scalability so that multiple devices can be connected to form a satellite network to facilitate sharing and monitoring of environmental data.
About HKU Faculty of Engineering
The Faculty of Engineering is one of the founding Faculties of The University of Hong Kong established in 1912. Since its foundation, the Faculty has kept pace with developments in the engineering world and is always at the forefront of engineering research, evolving into one of the largest Faculties at the University with five departments providing undergraduate, postgraduate and research degrees in a wide range of important fields of modern engineering, technology and computer science.
The Faculty aims at providing an all-round education for students, equipping graduates not only with knowledge of cutting-edge technology but also excellent communication and social skills, an innovation mindset, a lifelong learning attitude, professional integrity and international exposure.