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HK researchers and US tech start-up partner to help solve Covid-19 virus

Hong Kong is set to become the world’s first testing ground for the deployment of devices and data analytics tools to remotely monitor Covid-19 virus patients and others under quarantine.

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and a Boston-based health technology start-up are joining forces to start a programme to track the health indicators of 50 confirmed patients and 150 people under quarantine orders.

The volunteer participants will wear a device with built-in sensors on their upper arm 24 hours a day, through which data including their body temperatures, respiratory rates, blood oxygen levels and heart rates will be sent to a digital platform for real-time monitoring and analysis.

The Covid-19 patients often do not show symptoms such as fever or coughing for days after being infected and becoming infectious, so traditional surveillance is not ideal, especially for those under quarantine a cardiology specialist at HKU stated. The platform for Covid-19 monitoring would enable earlier diagnoses, he added.

The effort could grow in significance as the Hong Kong government brings home more than 3,000 of its residents stranded in central Hubei province, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, due to a lockdown in its capital Wuhan and neighbouring cities. More than 400 have been evacuated this week and sent to quarantine centres in the city.

The US tech start-up aims to engage most of the infected patients and another 500 under quarantine orders by the end of this month, its Chief Executive said, adding it is in talks to deploy its devices and analytical tools in the US, South Korea and Singapore as the epidemic spreads.

Having the ability to remotely monitor these people and giving clinicians the right alerts and data would be immensely beneficial.

For those already infected, the platform would help researchers better understand the disease as researchers are still learning how this strain of coronavirus affects the body. The Covid-19 trial monitoring programme is the first of its kind globally.

The tech start-up will donate monitoring devices for use on confirmed patients and absorb half the cost for use on quarantined people.

The virus that causes the Covid-19 disease has infected more than 97,000 people and killed at least 3,300, mostly in mainland China. Recent cases, however, have increased from Europe to the Middle East, sparking panic and drastic reactions from governments across the globe.

The latest effort is an extension to a separate trial by the start-up and HKU researchers to remotely monitor up to 500 chronic heart-failure patients, to detect potentially lethal arrhythmias in time and adjust their medication through the platform.

The platform will also collect any other data not currently scientifically linked to the Covid-19 disease, but upon data analysis, some may potentially show correlation.

Another Hong Kong-based firm, which has a joint venture with the US tech start-up to market the monitoring device and analytics platform in Greater China, said its “clinical-grade device” is one of the most accurate in the world for its purpose.

The most worrisome aspect of Covid-19 is not its mortality rate, but rather its infectiousness and the resulting stress on the medical system. It could relieve the manpower pressure at quarantine sites and hospitals, and reduce medical staff’s exposure to infection risks.

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