As some countries in the world begin to consider adjusting their pandemic control strategy from “zero COVID” to “living with COVID”, a research study by the Department of Land Surveying and Geo-Informatics at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has found that contact tracing is as vital as social distancing measures and vaccination in controlling the spread of COVID-19 when borders reopen.
The research team has also developed a mobile app with a contact tracing feature, designed for use by inbound travellers, that would help fight the pandemic in this respect.
The pandemic situation in Hong Kong is presently under good control, thanks to the implementation of various measures, such as social distancing and vaccination, with strong support from the general public. In the past 14 days (17-30 August), only one local case with unknown sources was reported.
Nevertheless, the economy is facing severe challenges as the economic activity of many industries has been seriously affected as passenger traffic, in terms of both arrivals and departures, remains low.
With COVID-19 vaccinations being widely implemented in many countries, against the backdrop of needing to revive cross-border activities, there is a growing prospect of easing social distancing regulations and reopening borders in different countries and regions. As a more sustainable control strategy for the long term, the focus is shifting towards living with the virus.
The Head and Professor of the Department of Land Surveying and Geo-Informatics at PolyU stated that we have conducted a study that employed a computational approach to investigate the contact tracing integrated policy in different border-reopening scenarios in Hong Kong.
Built on an epidemic model with 50% vaccination coverage, the results suggest that scenarios with digital contact tracing can reduce the infectious population by 84.7% compared to those without contact tracing.
One of the key recommendations drawn from the study is that contact tracing is an effective measure for reducing local virus spread, especially when it is applied along with social distancing and vaccination measures.
It was noted that contact tracing is an influential factor in controlling the spread because all the necessary pandemic control measures would not be promptly carried out without effective tracing against confirmed cases and identifying their close contacts.
Consequently, the research team has developed a mobile app with a contact tracing feature, targeting inbound travellers when borders reopen. Utilising the Global Navigation Satellite System, Bluetooth Low Energy and Data Analysis Technology, the mobile app is designed not only for users to record individual locations they have visited but more importantly to help users identify whether they have had close contact with those who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 14 days.
If any user is confirmed positive for COVID-19, they can share their record with all other users at their own discretion (or through a public health department that is acting as a central coordinator on the use of the mobile app). The app on other users’ handsets will then automatically compare the individual users’ records against the record received. If the record overlaps with that of the confirmed case, individual users will be immediately alerted to take appropriate actions.
All the information recorded by the mobile app is saved in the users’ own handsets only. No personal data is required when users download or use the app, and only anonymous data will be shared with other users. The app will also provide convenience for users to access the COVID-19 pandemic information released by the Government.
Contact tracing is key to effectively controlling the spread of the virus when borders reopen and the mobile app we designed for use by inbound travellers would serve as a possible solution. Furthermore, the app can be adapted for incorporating into other apps as an add-on feature.
Chronic wounds are a severe public health issue that affects more than 25 million people in the United States alone. They are easily infected and are the biggest cause of nontraumatic limb amputations around the world. Although the wound environment is always changing, the rate of healing can be accelerated by administering therapies at the proper moment. This method necessitates continuous wound monitoring and on-demand drug delivery in a closed-loop system.
In Singapore, a breakthrough smart wearable sensor with a platform that combines an electronic chip, and a mobile app has been developed that could assess chronic wounds in real-time. A research team from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Institute for Health Innovation and System (iHealthtech), as well as clinical collaborators from Singapore General Hospital, developed the technology.
Our smart bandage technology is the first of its kind designed for chronic wound management to give patients the freedom to perform the test and monitor their wound conditions at home.
– Professor Lim, Director of iHealthtech, National University of Singapore
People with chronic wounds, such as venous leg ulcers, will benefit from the smart bandage. Within 15 minutes, it can detect temperature, pH, bacteria type and inflammatory markers specific to chronic wounds, allowing for quick and precise diagnosis. The bandage assesses the wound’s micro-environment as well as its infection and inflammation state through biomarkers from the wound’s fluid using an electrochemical system.
For real-time wound assessment, a chip connected to the sensor provides data wirelessly to the mobile app. This allows doctors to monitor the patient’s recovery and assess whether additional therapy is required. The smart bandage works in conjunction with the patient’s current medical therapy, allowing for rapid medical intervention in wound healing processes.
The next stage of development for the smart bandage will involve clinical tests on about 50 to 100 patients spanning one to two years before it is rolled out to other patients in around two years. The team will explore the incorporation of other appropriate biomarkers suitable for other wound types and utilise data in existing clinical workflows to improve diagnosis and treatment. Ultimately, they hope to test the technology on a larger prospective randomised clinical trial with different types of non-healing chronic ulcers such as diabetic foot and pressure ulcers.
The bandage’s developers anticipate that more patients will be able to monitor their chronic wounds at home, minimising hospital visits. The project’s primary researcher is Professor Lim Chwee Teck, director of the NUS Institute for Health Innovation and Technology.
“Point-of-care devices coupled with telehealth or digital health capability can play a significant role in transforming the healthcare industry and our society, which is catalysed by the COVID-19 pandemic requirements for safe distancing,” said Prof Lim, Director of iHealthtech at NUS. He further added that the smart bandage technology is the first of its type for chronic wound management, allowing patients to undertake tests and monitor their wound status from the comfort of their own homes.
OpenGov Asia reported that NUHS will also launch an updated My Health Map initiative to boost residents’ access to preventative health services by providing health screenings to residents on-site when appropriate and holding community health lectures. They can also get suggestions for health exams and vaccines based on their demographics and health status using the app’s My Health Map function. Patients can also use the app to schedule in-person visits, register for a queue number, and view the number of patients ahead of them in the queue.
“The launch of the teleconsultation feature is extremely opportune considering the Covid-19 scenario,” said Clara Sin, Chief Operating Officer of NUH and NUHS’ group service transformation and medical records offices. The agency aims to ensure that all patients receive consistent care and that they do not have to travel to the hospital, especially the elderly.
The India Internet Governance Forum (IIGF) curtain-raiser, a precursor to IIGF has concluded. The curtain raiser ended with an insight into a roadmap for digitisation in India. IIGF will be jointly organised by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MietY), and the National Internet Exchange of India. The theme is ‘Empower India through Power of Internet’ and will include discussions on the road to digitisation in India. The salient feature of the event will be the three plenary sessions: India and Internet- India’s Digital Journey and Her Global Role, Equity, Access, and Quality; High-speed Internet for All; and Cyber Norms and Ethics in Internet Governance.
As per a government press release, the IIGF has been constituted in conformance to IGF-Paragraph 72 of the Tunis Agenda of the United Nations-based Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Through an open and inclusive process, IIGF will bring together stakeholders in the global Internet governance ecosystem, including the government, industry, civil society, and academia – as equal participants of the larger Internet governance discourse.
The objective of the curtain raiser event was to discuss the roadmap for digitisation and reaffirm India as an essential participant on the global stage by highlighting its role in international policy development on Internet governance. A government official explained that IIGF comes at an important time in the history of the evolution of the Internet in India. As the world is emerging from a pandemic, it is becoming increasingly visible that there have been disruptions and reinventions of businesses, governance, and governments across the world. The rate of digitalisation has increased and accelerated tremendously, he said.
India has around 800 million internet users at the moment, making it the largest connected nation. The press release stated that the government is committed to covering 1.2 billion people. The country still has about 400 million people outside the network and it’s important for the government to ensure that Internet connectivity is available for all. The intersection of policy framework, the emergence of cutting-edge technologies, and initiatives by private players present an exciting time for the evolution of the digital economy, an industry expert explained. The IIGF will be a step ahead in ensuring the inclusive participation of all stakeholders in harnessing the power of the Internet for economic growth.
Earlier this month, MeitY organised a workshop to create a roadmap to accelerate Internet access in currently unconnected parts of the country. The workshop, Connecting All Indians, invited public and private stakeholders, including India’s largest Internet service providers and officials from MeitY, the Department of Telecommunications, and the Ministry of Communications. As OpenGov Asia had reported, the workshop provided a platform for all the participating stakeholders to put forward their solutions to expand Internet penetration to remote corners of the country.
The event was chaired by the Minister of State for IT who laid out the government’s objectives to connect all Indians with open, safe, and trusted Internet connectivity. He noted that it is the Prime Minister’s vision through the Digital India initiative to empower all citizens with the Internet and simultaneously expand the digital economy and generate jobs.
The workshop also reviewed BharatNet, the world’s largest fibre-based rural broadband connectivity project. The workshop deliberated upon strategies to immediately cover left-out geographies, regions, and villages. BharatNet is a mission of national importance, aiming to establish a highly scalable network infrastructure that provides on-demand and affordable broadband connectivity for all households and on-demand capacity for all institutions, in partnership with state governments and the private sector.
Hing Kong’s Under Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury noted that as a leading international financial hub in Asia, Hong Kong is an ideal place for the development of fintech business. Fintech companies enjoy tremendous access to potential clients, investors and business partners in Hong Kong, where many financial institutions and multinational companies have set up their Asia regional headquarters or their biggest business presence in Asia.
The Director-General of Investment Promotion at InvestHK stated that the essence of Hong Kong Fintech Week is one of collaboration: the government’s Hong Kong Inc and the private sector will work together to showcase the vibrant fintech ecosystem here, and its relevance to Asia and the world, putting forward the case for fintech enterprises to fast-track their success in the city. Collectively, we will enable a unified vision of a bigger and better fintech future.
Invest Hong Kong (InvestHK) recently announced that Hong Kong Fintech Week 2021, themed “Scaling Fintech Future Together”, will be held in hybrid form, comprising both physical and virtual formats, from 1 November to 5 November 2021. This edition of Fintech Week was organised by the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau (FSTB) and InvestHK, and co-organised by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) and the Insurance Authority (IA).
The event will provide a platform for information technology companies, fintech firms, and financial institutions, investors, regulators and more, from all over the world to explore how emerging technologies and innovative advances can power the future of financial services to maximise benefits for consumers, business and society at large.
Vision for Hong Kong’s fintech future
The Head of Fintech at InvestHK noted that Hong Kong’s fintech success is in large part due to the breadth and depth of its financial services industry and entrepreneurial culture. Together with supportive government and regulator policies, substantial pools of private investment and rising fintech adoption rates, the region’s ecosystem has become a magnet for global start-up and scale-up companies. The next wave of opportunities will bring deeper collaboration in the Greater Bay Area financial services ecosystem.
The winners of the 2021 Global Fast Track programme led by InvestHK to promote fintech business adoption and scaling opportunities in Hong Kong will be announced during Hong Kong Fintech Week. In addition to the multi-track conference with prominent speakers, the event will also feature exhibitions, a deal floor, networking and satellite events, demo shows, over 50 workshops and more. Selected keynote sessions will also be live-streamed via the official Hong Kong Fintech Week social media channels and Mainland-based tech news platform 36Kr.
FinTech in Hong Kong
A recent article noted that over the last ten years, Hong Kong has developed significantly in the fintech industry. As the Covid-19 pandemic has changed consumer behaviour, start-ups have been pushed to go beyond innovation and digital transformation. The rise of fintech is now coming into the limelight than ever for financial institutions.
With well-developed information and communication technology, Hong Kong has ramped up its efforts and made its way to becoming an international fintech hub despite its small size. One of the reasons why Hong Kong stands out as a top fintech hub with its fintech development is due to abundant government funding.
The report notes that in addition to progressive regulatory policies, Hong Kong’s government offers multiple grants to help start-ups establish, grow and expand. From R&D support, favourable tax deductions, waived fees and financial hiring assistance to offering matching funds for development, fundraising and even overseas expansion, Hong Kong offers unmatched opportunities for fintech innovation.
The Hong Kong government has taken the initiative to boost the development of fintech by launching an aggressive plan of setting aside $500 million HK to increase its competitiveness and support its financial services industry, fintech included.
The Hong Kong government has also earmarked $10 million HK on the launching of the Fintech Proof-of-Concept Subsidy Scheme to provide “through-train” vetting and funding. The abundant provision of financial assistance enables fintech companies to check the box of capital and proceed with the expansion.
In addition, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), in 2016, launched the Fintech Facilitation Office (FFO) which facilitates the healthy development of the fintech ecosystem in Hong Kong and promotes Hong Kong as a fintech hub in Asia.
Among other things, the FFO acts as:
- a platform for exchanging ideas of innovative fintech initiatives among key stakeholders and conducting outreaching activities;
- an interface between market participants and regulators within the HKMA to help improve the industry’s understanding about the parts of the regulatory landscape which are relevant to them;
- an initiator of industry research in potential application and risks of fintech solutions; and
- a facilitator to nurture talents to meet the growing needs of the fintech industry in Hong Kong
According to New Zealand’s latest research virtual reality to address mental health issues is showing potential. The new study was headed by a computer science senior lecturer and co-authored by a PhD student. The lecturer-student team is also conducting a Massey Strategic Research Excellence Fund-funded research project on intelligent customised VR for depression treatment. The project was inspired by the realisation that there is little study on using virtual reality to aid in the treatment of depression and even less work on providing patients with a tailored VR experience.
The study was recently published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health, and it has already gotten a lot of press. The researchers conducted a scoping assessment of studies published between 2017 and 2021 that examined the use of virtual reality (VR) as a treatment for anxiety. Most studies found that using virtual reality to help the treatment of anxiety in a variety of situations was successful, and they suggested it as a tool for use in a clinical setting.
The ability to view the inside of the human body in Virtual Reality is not only useful for doctors, but also for patients. VR allows patients to be taken through their surgical plan by virtually stepping into a patient-specific 360° VR reconstruction of their anatomy & pathology. Hence, enhanced understanding of the treatment and consequently higher patient satisfaction.
New Zealand’s Otago University Mental Health Clinical Research Unit, Auckland Institute of Studies, Otago Polytechnic Auckland campus, and Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University collaborated on the study. It examined the ways VR exposure and interventions have been used in the treatment of mental health conditions, the technologies used, and how effective they have been as a treatment method.
The project’s original concept and outcomes were presented at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2020) and the 13th ACM Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction conference on Engineering Interactive Computing Systems, respectively (EICS 2021).
To increase the quality of psychological treatments and improve mental health outcomes for New Zealanders, the project draws on the expertise of an interdisciplinary team of researchers working at the intersection of mental health, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. The senior lecturer in computer science believes the initiative will pave the way for the use of virtual reality in the mental health profession in New Zealand. “We believe our contribution can pave the way for large-scale efficacy testing, clinical use, and cost-effective delivery of intelligent individualised VR technology for mental health therapy across Aotearoa New Zealand in the future.”
OpenGov Asia reported that while many individuals are eager to get their vaccinations and prevent the deadly COVID-19 virus from spreading further, trypanophobia, or a fear of needles, is believed to be causing problems for a significant number of people across the country. Researchers from the University of Otago have collaborated with a tech firm to develop new software that uses virtual reality (VR) to distract patients who are frightened of needles so they can receive the injections they needed.
The programme had been tested out by patients in Christchurch when receiving influenza shots while wearing the VR headset. A patient claim that he could “barely tell” when the injection was taking place and that he would recommend the app to anyone who is afraid of needles. People with phobias or anxiety over things like flying, heights, spiders, and social situations could also benefit from it.
The application of virtual reality in mental health is a cutting-edge field with a lot of potential and that it will be fascinating to see where the field goes. This is especially true as standalone VR headsets become more inexpensive and certain models allow researchers to collect and analyse physiological data from participants.
The Indian Institute of Technology Madras’ (IIT-Madras) Robert Bosch Centre for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (RBCDSAI) is launching the ‘RBCDSAI Industrial Consortium’ to provide information resources on cutting-edge technologies to industries working on artificial intelligence (AI).
The consortium will help industry members learn about the scientific developments and latest trends in AI and data science through broad-based interactions with the centre and its faculty. According to an official at the Institute, RBCDSAI carries out high-quality AI research and the idea is to use the industrial consortium as a means to quickly disseminate the output of the research to industry partners so that they can work together towards launching applications in the field.
As per a news report, currently, the centre offers two membership plans to the interested industries: platinum and silver. The membership plans will enable priority access to four RBCDSAI events, namely, colloquia, quarterly workshops, industry conclaves, and annual research showcases. The centre will organise two special half-day workshops on their voted topic of interest from a slate for its members. Additionally, platinum members will have a dedicated in-domain contact faculty at the centre for close interaction to seek suggestions on their industry’s plans. They will get to exclusively interact with the students to know more about their research and have early access to RBCDSAI publications, reports, datasets, and other research material.
The consortium membership will also provide enhanced interaction with the RBCDSAI research ecosystem and help develop a specialised workforce that can benefit member companies. It will act as a forum that leverages synergistic capabilities of the eventual users, solution providers, solution platform developers, and academicians, the report stated. An RBCDSAI Consortium membership is an opportunity for players to establish themselves as key players in data science and Al with the potential to secure new and significant revenue streams.
RBCDSAI is one of India’s preeminent interdisciplinary research centres for data science and AI, with 28 faculty spanning ten departments of IIT-Madras working on various aspects and applications of AI. The centre explores areas like deep learning, network analytics, reinforcement learning, natural language processing, theoretical machine learning, and ethics and fairness in AI. It also carries out applied research in multiple verticals such as financial analytics, manufacturing analytics, smart cities, systems biology, and healthcare.
In August, IIT-Madras inaugurated the country’s first consortium for virtual reality called the ‘Consortium for VR/AR/MR Engineering Mission in India’ (CAVE). The consortium comprises a group of academic institutions, industries, start-ups, and government bodies. It will enable members to create new advanced technologies and applications in virtual reality, augmented reality, XR, and haptics technology.
As OpenGov Asia reported, the consortium will promote best practices and create a dialogue with stakeholders, government policymakers, and research institutions. It aims to become a resource for industry, academia, consumers, and policymakers interested in virtual, augmented, and mixed reality. The key outcomes envisaged from CAVE include developing indigenous VR/AR/MR and haptics hardware and software and setting up a ‘VR Superhighway’ or ‘VR Corridor’ where many start-ups can work together to make India a global hub for XR and haptics needs.
Thailand’s cabinet, on 25 October 2021, approved a draft decree to regulate digital platform service businesses to maintain financial and commercial stability and to prevent damage to the public, a government spokesman said.
Such businesses, both in and outside of Thailand, will need to notify the government before operating, the spokesman said in a statement. The law will apply to various digital platform services including online marketplaces, social commerce, food delivery, space sharing, ride/car sharing and online search engines, he said. The spokesman also noted that they are all increasingly important to the economy and society, so there is a need to oversee them.
Since 1 September 2021, Thailand has followed in the footsteps of many countries in imposing a value-added tax (VAT) charge of 7% on non-resident digital service providers. It is a significant step for the country in capturing revenue created by the digitalisation of the economy.
The ‘e-service tax’ obliges non-resident digital service providers that earn over THB1.8 million per year to pay the VAT. The department expects around 100 foreign e-service providers to register to pay VAT in Thailand during the initial stage of tax enforcement.
So far, about 70 foreign e-service operators have registered, of which 20 are giant online platform operators. Since the tax is not a direct tax on income but an indirect tax via VAT, some e-service providers are likely to pass the tax burden onto customers. As such, those who pay the tax are not those e-platform operators but local end-users.
However, some doubt remains about how effective the tax scheme will be. The department is faced with several questions. How can the Revenue Department verify the amount of VAT that those foreign digital platform providers have to pay? What can the government do if they fail to pay the tax, especially when several operators have no physical presence?
E-service tax can ensure fairer treatment for local digital service providers who bear a higher cost burden as they are obliged to pay VAT. However, as the digital economy is growing, VAT collections alone might not ensure fair competition.
While other foreign businesses and investors including local digital service providers pay Thai corporate tax on income, non-resident digital service providers do not have to as they are not physically present in Thailand. So, these service providers still have an upper hand.
Digitalisation and the digital economy are continuing to grow. Figures by DataReportal show that there were 48.59 million internet users in Thailand in January 2021. The number of internet users in Thailand increased by 3.4 million (+7.4%) between 2020 and 2021. Internet penetration in Thailand stood at 69.5% in January 2021.
There were 55.00 million social media users in Thailand in January 2021. The number of social media users in Thailand increased by 3.0 million (+5.8%) between 2020 and 2021. The number of social media users in Thailand was equivalent to 78.7% of the total population in January 2021. Moreover, device ownership also grew and diversified.
These statistics highlight the fact that a growing digital economy requires a comprehensive and effective tax and regulation strategy, which is now in the works in Thailand.
Artificial intelligence is on the verge of radically altering our society and industry. The AI trend of technological singularity is rapidly growing, and it is being used in a wide range of human endeavours, including education, medicine, business, engineering, and the arts. This cutting-edge technology has been integrated into the government and business sector all around the world.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) emphasised that innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) can help the nation thrive in a post-pandemic environment. Global challenges can be better managed through innovative technologies, and Philippine companies cannot be left behind in this regard. In a post-pandemic world, the trade undersecretary Rafaelita Aldaba stressed the importance of harnessing the power of emerging technologies for local businesses to remain competitive.
In a statement, the minister said, “while we recognise that collective efforts are instrumental in addressing challenges that are global in scale such as the pandemic, we acknowledge that innovative initiatives, like AI, must be harnessed and be placed at the core of all our endeavours to ensure that we will not only overcome overwhelming obstacles but also guarantee that our industries will remain adoptable amidst our ever-changing economic landscape.”
Innovative initiatives, for instance, AI must be harnessed and be placed at the core of all our endeavours to ensure that we will not only overcome overwhelming obstacles but also guarantee that our industries will remain adoptable amidst our ever-changing economic landscape and that they will thrive moving forward.
– Rafaelita Aldaba, Undersecretary, Department of Trade and Industry
The DTI noted that apart from being aware of innovative technologies, local firms would be able to embrace and adapt to new economic realities, which includes AI and other similar technologies. Continuing in this vein, the government through the DTI is working endlessly to reach a higher level of recent technological and innovative breakthroughs to propel the country’s economy forward and improve the competitiveness of its industries, particularly at a time when the global economy is being rocked by disruptions from all directions. DTI will host the Inclusive Innovation Industrial Strategy (I3S) to carry out its objective, which will bring together participants from government, industry, and academia.
The event will feature some of the country’s top AI experts, who will enhance and widen participants’ understanding and appreciation of this innovative technology. It will also focus on discussions surrounding the proposed National Centre for AI Research, as well as experiences and insights on the adoption of AI by businesses, particularly considering the lingering pandemic, and critical issues surrounding AI, particularly those related to ethics, governance, and regulations.
The Philippines was ranked 51st out of 132 economies in the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s (WIPO) Global Innovation Index (GII) study released last month, despite the challenges posed by Covid-19 and a decreasing budget for research and development (R&D).
OpenGov Asia recently reported on the growth of the business process outsourcing sector in recent decades. The processing of artificial intelligence is expected to be an emerging industry for the Philippines. Reporting to the President and the Nation, Department of Trade, and Industry (DTI) Secretary stated that the government and private sector are working together to expand AI technology in the country. He was confident that the Philippines could be a big data processing hub and that AI would be the next centre for excellence after BPO – which the Philippines is known for
When the DTI released the industry blueprint last May, the Philippines became one of the first 50 countries in the world to launch a national AI roadmap. The national AI roadmap aims to transform the country into an AI powerhouse in the region. AI adoption, according to a research firm, has the potential to add USD92 billion to the Philippine economy by 2030. According to the national AI roadmap, the country will establish the government-initiated National Centre for AI Research, which will be led by the private sector (NCAIR).
The DTI’s AI roadmap also seeks to provide direction on the use of AI to sustain local industries’ regional and worldwide competitiveness, as well as identify priority areas for government, industry, and broader society to invest time and resources in both research and development and technology application.