As the world welcomed a new decade by ushering in the year 2020, the turn of the decade brought with it an unpleasant shock in the form of the Covid-19 outbreak. Since its revelation back in December 2019, the Covid-19 outbreak has since grown into a global epidemic traversing across 76 countries with more than 90,000 cases and over 3,000 deaths as of early March. Besides posing a critical risk to the health of the world’s population, the Covid-19 epidemic has caused economic shockwaves to ripple across the global economy in particular with regards to the automotive, travel, consumer goods, electronics and retail sectors. In the automotive industry for example, a leading car manufacturer has had to shut down seven of its factories in South Korea, due to disruption to its components supply chain as its wire harness suppliers were located in the Hubei province which have been imposed with a total lockdown by the Chinese government.
Unsurprisingly, the economy of China which is the epicentre of the Covid-19 epidemic is set to be the most impacted with the International Monetary Foundation (IMF) having downgraded its growth forecast for the Chinese economy for 2020 to 5.6% which is the lowest since 1990. With China being the second-largest economy in the world, the downturn of the Chinese economy is set to profoundly impact the global economy as a whole. Given the significant economic impact of Covid-19, it is imperative that the epidemic is tackled in a manner which is most efficient and effective in order to enable the global state of affairs to be restored to its state of normalcy as soon as humanly possible.
In this regard, a particular factor which is causing many difficulties for global efforts to tackle the Covid-19 epidemic is the rise in the use of air transportation as a mode of travel. Over the course of the 4 years spanning the period from 2015 to 2018, the volume of global air passengers recorded an annual growth rate of 7.4% except for 2018 when it recorded an even higher rate of 8.1%. The increasing number of air passengers criss-crossing the four corners of the world renders global efforts to tackle the Covid-19 epidemic to become much more complicated, as immigration authorities may find it challenging to trace the travel history of inbound passengers in order to ascertain whether there is a need to quarantine those who have been to countries affected by the Covid-19 epidemic or been in contact with infected persons.
A silver lining in this connection is perhaps the rise in the use of mobile devices among the global population. In terms of internet connectivity, it is estimated that 62% of internet users access the world wide web using their mobile devices. A central supporting factor which is driving the growth in the use of mobile devices for internet connectivity is the rise in smartphone use, whereby the global number of smartphone users is projected to reach 2.87 billion by the end of this year. Coming to the aid of global efforts to tackle the Covid-19 epidemic, is the utility of mobile phones for immigration authorities to trace the travel history of inbound passengers whereby the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) technology is certainly a handy tool in this regard.
Originally developed to facilitate the operations of the United States (U.S) military, GPS has since grown into the commercial sphere for use by civilians. Although prior to the introduction of GPS it was already possible to track the location of a mobile phone through cell signals broadcasted by the phone, the accuracy of this mode of tracking is not as accurate as that of GPS which can point out the precise location of the phone. In the context of global efforts to combat the Covid-19 epidemic, the use of mobile GPS by immigration authorities to trace the travel history of inbound passengers may be the technological solution to remedy the complexities of the situation.
Other than allowing immigration authorities to find out the countries which have been visited by an inbound passenger, the accuracy of mobile GPS which can be used to pinpoint the precise location of a mobile phone would allow immigration authorities to ascertain as to whether a particular inbound passenger may have crossed path with infected persons. This in turn enables immigration authorities to make well-informed decisions as to which inbound passenger to quarantine.
Leading the way in the use of mobile GPS as part of efforts to tackle the Covid-19 epidemic is China whereby Tencent, which operates China’s popular messaging app WeChat, has developed a QR code-based tracking system. The system uses a personalized individual approach by allowing users to input their symptoms to generate a color-based QR code which will inform the users as to their appropriate quarantine requirements. Through the system, authorities can track users who are deemed as being in need of quarantine and ascertain as to whether there is any breach of the users’ quarantine requirements.
In South Korea, the use of mobile GPS tracking as part of efforts to tackle the Covid-19 epidemic takes a more social centric approach. The Coronamap.live site established by a local software developer leverages mobile GPS to inform users of Covid-19 infection cases in their vicinity so that those who are in high-risk areas will have their guards up by taking a greater degree of precaution. Although the use of mobile GPS tracking may raise legal issues pertaining to personal privacy, the severity of the Covid-19 epidemic may justify the carving out of exemptions to the applicable privacy laws. Case in point, is the reliance by the Australian authorities on exemptions under the country’s telecommunications privacy laws to retrace the movements of an infected Chinese coupled who have travelled to the city of Adelaide.
As humanity forges ahead in its quest for economic development in the spirit of globalization, there are bound to be hiccups and road bumps along the way every now and then. Thankfully in humanity’s hour of need, technology-based solutions in particular that of mobile GPS tracking comes to the fore to remedy the complexities in tackling the Covid-19 epidemic. Indeed mobile GPS tracking has proven itself to be the prime technological tool for humanity in our fight for a cause which is greater than ourselves i.e. our continued survival as a species.
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