Last year, the Kumbha Mela at Haridwar formed a massive super spreader from where the second wave of Covid-19 started all over India. Kumbha Mela, the largest religious gathering in the world, was banned by the Uttarakhand Government, though there was no rule stopping pilgrims from visiting as tourists and bathing in the Ganga river. Due to economic as well as cultural reasons, an unofficial gathering of lakhs of people occurred at Haridwar in April 2021. The result was a massive second wave that killed thousands of people all across India.
Gangasagar is the second largest religious gathering, attracting pilgrims from all over the country. Last year, amidst Covid-19, Gangasagar Mela was banned completely and was done online. This resulted in a fairly low Covid-19 count during January and February. Gangasagar Mela is an annual fair occurring every year, unlike the Kumbha Mela, which occurs every year. Hence, doing without the Gangasagar Mela this year would not have caused many problems to the pilgrims and Government alike. However, the Government has walked the other way and has decided to go on with the Gangasagar Mela this year with strict Covid-19 rules.
It is next to impossible to maintain social distancing at a single small beach where lakhs of visitors will bathe on 14th January 2022. It is also impossible to get all pilgrims masked and sanitized at the same time all over the huge island, whether at temple premises or at the ferry. It is also impossible for the Government to mandate RT-PCR tests for pilgrims when there are numerous entry points and means of transportation to Gangasagar island. Most importantly, the state itself is going through its worst phase of Covid-19, when a huge gathering at Park Street, Kolkata during Christmas has become a super spreader for the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.
Gangasagar Mela can be put on hold for the next year, but the rising Covid-19 cases will lead to massive hospitalization and even death of some of our fellow citizens. Hence it is necessary to avoid the crowd as much as possible during the Gangasagar Mela. It is time to stay at home and make Pitha, a winter delicacy in Bengal. It is time to avoid any large gathering for whatever reason despite double vaccination or negative RT-PCR test, because you may contract the virus anytime from someone else. With record Covid-19 cases in West Bengal, it is up to the visitors and the citizens to control the Covid-19 spread and stop the pandemic once and for all.
India has just battled out its worst pandemic situation ever. The first two waves did significant damage all over the world, including India. We have lost so many fellow Indians. Our economy is getting weaker and weaker. Unemployment is on the rise. However, the main question is, even after two massive outbreaks of Covid-19 are we aware of the control measures of this virus yet.
After a disastrous second wave, nobody wants another wave of Covid-19 anytime in the country. However, health officials, including the Prime Minister have warned against a possible third wave in the near future. The positive news was that vaccination is going on in full swing, and it will not be long before all citizens of India are vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus. However, the third wave is predicted to reach India well before that. Scientists say that even 70% vaccination can reduce the severity of a third wave to a great extent.
Increasing the duration of the gap between two doses of Covishield is also another factor of slow vaccination rates in India. Covishield was given at an interval of 12 to 16 weeks between two doses as against the previous 8-week gap. Covishield production and distribution have also slowed down considerably as the second wave is retreating from the country. A positive note here is that some single-dose vaccines like Johnson and Johnson, or Sputnik Light are found to be quite effective against Covid-19. Launching single-dose vaccines will increase the vaccination rate to a great extent.
The main question is, when will the third wave come. Scientists differ in their opinions, but most of them suggest that some time is required after the waning of the second wave after which they will get a clear idea. Some scientists say that the third wave has already arrived in the country in July. A few others think the second wave is yet to abate fully from the country and the third wave may arrive 6-8 weeks after the second wave abates. Many predictions point out that if the Government does not tighten its grip on people movement and tourism, as it was before the second wave, the third wave is likely to arrive sooner than expected, and may even take a violent turn. A number of researchers also say that the third wave may arrive by mid-August. However, most studies agree that the severity of the third wave is at our hands, how well we can shield ourselves from infected persons.
Despite all precautions, a section of scientists says that a third wave is inevitable and it may hit India sooner than expected. As nationwide lockdown eases a bit in July, a huge crowd has flocked to the hill stations and beaches. Such a massive crowd of non-local people in tourist places may turn into a Kumbha Mela like super-spreader. Tourist destinations like Lakshadweep and Kerala are seeing an increasing trend in the Covid-19 case count. Most tourist destinations have asked for a negative Covid-19 report or vaccination. Maintaining Covid-19 protocols as well as social distancing is the key to stay safe from getting infected by the deadly virus.
Originated in Wuhan, China, in the year 2019, coronavirus Covid-19 caused havoc throughout the world, causing deaths to millions of people and severely damaging the lives of many. Covid-19 shows no signs of fading away from most countries in the world anytime soon. Thus the need of the hour is a vaccine that can protect us from this deadly disease. For the past one year, scientists in every country are trying their best to procure a vaccine to save people from dying.
The first ray of hope came in Russia, which invented a vaccine for coronavirus way back in August 2020. Named Sputnik V, it became the first and, to date, one of the best vaccines suitable for Covid-19 disease. Other countries have tried to produce vaccines, and now there are many vaccines in circulation across different countries. USA, UK, India have created their own indigenous vaccines that are quite as effective as Sputnik V.
In India, two vaccines are prescribed by the Government to be taken by all individuals in a phased manner. Covishield and Covaxin are the two vaccines in circulation among the public. Covaxin is recommended for those who have prior diseases or comorbidity, while Covishield is recommended for all others. Two doses of vaccination are required. Covaxin requires a gap of 4 weeks in between two doses. Covishield needs a greater interval of 6 to 8 weeks between the doses. Both the vaccines are working very well against Covid-19 strains present in India (except one ‘Bengal Variant’ maybe), with Covishield shown by many studies as having a slight edge over Covaxin. People getting vaccinated reported little or no side effects, the minor side effects being not more than slight fever or weakness. Thus, it is advised to all register and take the vaccine as soon as it is made available.
Now the most important question comes, when will I get the vaccine. If your age is above 45 years, then you are eligible to take the vaccine anytime. Register and wait for your slot. The date and venue (usually the nearest vaccination camp) of vaccination will be updated soon after you register. You may be asked to carry an identification card (Aadhar Card or something like that). Maintain social distancing, wear a mask, and wait for your turn. You may be required to spend a few minutes (usually half an hour) at the camp to see if the vaccine produced any weird side effects. Don’t worry; the vaccine is completely safe, and this is just for your safety only. Registration for the vaccine has begun for 18 to 45-year-old people, as of 28th April, and vaccination will start by 1st May. It is advised to register via registered accounts, Aarogya Setu app, or the Government vaccination drive website, https://www.cowin.gov.in/home, and be available at your vaccination drive camp on the vaccination day. We wish everyone to be safe and cooperative to win the hard-fought battle against the deadly virus.
With the spread of COVID-19, the world is facing an unprecedented economic, social and political crisis. Global leaders and experts said COVID-19 is and will be “the gravest challenge since the World War II.”
Korea is no exception in this global pandemic. Korea had a surge of COVID-19 outbreak and virus started spreading at the local and community level. The number of new coronavirus cases increases exponentially peaking at 909 new infections on February 29.
But new case has dropped significantly.
Korea was able to successfully flatten the curve on COVID-19 in only 20 days without complete lock down, which has had a huge impact on global economy, but maintaining a balance between quarantine and social distancing on one hand and continue with economic activities and production on the other.
What is the secret of Korea’s successful response?
ICTs played a vital role in fighting COVID-19 in Korea. Mobile devices were used to support early testing and contact tracing.
Advanced ICTs were particularly useful in spreading key emergency information on novel virus and help to maintain extensive ‘social distancing’.
The testing results and latest information on COVID-19 was made available via national and local government websites. The government provided free smartphone apps flagged infection hotspots with text alerts on testing and local cases.
In the publication, we will present actual response measures of Korean government against COVID-19 using the latest ICTs and discuss how we can fight smarter against an invisible micro-pathogen.
We hope the information and experience of Korea may provide a valuable solution to help your country and community combat COVID-19.
ICT helps SOCIAL DISTANCING:
Emergency broadcasting service (CBS, cellular broadcasting service)
The Cellular Broadcasting Service, or CBS, enables government agencies to transmit emergency alert text messages on natural or man-made disasters to cell phones through mobile telecom carriers in Korea.
The CBS can send these messages without a delivery bottleneck when an emergency occurs because it does not use the general SMS text messaging system.
Moreover, it delivers messages to subscribers’ mobile phones in a way such that a customized warning alarm only goes off in the disaster area.
In general, the system sends short messages with emergency alerts and guidelines for citizens. Messages are categorized into three types based on the severity of the disaster.
The most urgent emergency disaster messages such as an air raid warning and NBC warning are transmitted during wartime with the alarm sounding at a volume above 60 decibels, and it is impossible to ignore the texts.
The second highest-risk notification about emergent disasters sends an alert exceeding 40 decibels when a disaster occurs.
Municipalities throughout Korea are putting every effort into curbing the contagion as they use the CBS to inform the public of the movement paths taken by confirmed patients and other related information.
Residents who receive COVID-19 emergency texts can quickly check if they have been anywhere that overlaps with the movement of a confirmed patient, allowing them to get tested quickly if necessary.
In this way, the CBS contributes to slowing the spread of the virus across the nation.
A special website providing information of solution companies for remote working
As services not requiring in-person contact are on the rise due to COVID-19,solutions needed for remote working and remote learning will be provided.
The Korean government opened a website to provide information about companies providing solutions for remote working and education and their products; related support will also be provided. The website was opened after a joint survey with the Korea Software Industry Association to identify business demand and classifying more than 140 solutions by sector.
The website provides filtered search results of companies (company information, functions and price of their products, etc.), and users can visit the company website for more details.
Information about free solutions is also available so that they can be utilized for remote learning and remote working.
Smart working and social distancing (Holding virtual video conferences)
A number of municipalities in Korea are performing their duties through ICT enabled real-time virtual meetings instead of in-person meetings as part of their efforts to implement strict social distancing measures to slow the spread of new infections.
Video conferencing can be a viable alternative to essential in-person meetings due to the coronavirus outbreak.
It also helps to prevent the spread of the virus by eliminating the need for physical contact between the participants.
Providing educational contents by the central government.
As schools have been shut down due to COVID-19, the Korean government is offering science content online to minimize interruptions in students’ learning and expand their opportunities for learning activities.
On March 9, the Korean government created a general information page on the science portal website.
ScienceAll, to introduce diverse online science content, which contains educational content for science, mathematics and software; immersive content for learning science (AR, VR); video clips, comics and quizzes about science.
The government also announced the launch of the page through a notification page for parents. After the information page was created, the number of users of ScienceAll increased by 1.04 compared to the week before and by 2.74 compared to January 2020, showing that more people are using the portal’s content.
As many universities are switching to online classes, instructors are facing problems due to being unable to offer students hands-on experience. To tackle this challenge, the Korean government created and released hands-on learning content using simulation software for 23 high-demand classes in (e.g. quantum chemistry), in addition to currently available software and educational content.
Using the online simulation platform, EDISON, students will be able to get hands-on experience through simulation and access diverse content including videos, text and data, which is expected to increase the effectiveness of online learning.
Seoul City Office of Education’s efforts in remote education
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE), which has the largest number of students and education-related stakeholders in Korea, has established an educational infrastructure with the view to implementing a stable system of remote education that will be introduced nationwide.
The SMOE is taking a multifaceted approach to providing public schools with the support they need to cover the curriculum.
The SMOE has formulated and implemented the “Operational Plan for the Seoul Version of Online Classes,” which is designed to close learning gaps caused by the closure of schools , following the coronavirus outbreak and prepare students for remote learning.
For aspiring schools and teachers, the SMOE has introduced services via online learning programs such as Edunet, EBS Online Class, and Google Classroom.
It released and distributed an “Online Learning Management Manual” and used the Seoul Education YouTube channel to help teachers who encounter difficulties preparing for online classes.
The Korean government has temporarily permitted doctors to perform telemedicine from the end of February as part of preventive measures to avoid group contagion in vulnerable facilities including medical institutions and nursing homes.
In other words, patients can receive phone consultations and have medicine prescribed without visiting medical institutions when the doctor considers it safe.
Remote medicine targeting confirmed coronavirus patients
Last March, telemedicine services were implemented in Moongyeong Seoul National University Hospital (North Gyeongsangbuk-do Daegu 3 Living and Treatment Support Center) for the first time in Korea, as there were clusters of confirmed coronavirus patients in Daegu City, Gyeongsangbuk-d.
The Moongyeong Seoul National University Hospital relies on video calls and electronic systems more safely and efficiently to monitor coronavirus patients hospitalized with mild symptoms.
Nurses ask patients detailed questions about their conditions via video calls through smart phones. The Moongyeong Seoul National University Hospital established the same computer network as its main hospital to record patients’ medical examinations and treatments through telehealth video conferencing.
Medical questionnaires filled out by patients and X-ray scans are uploaded onto the computer.
Radiologists from Seoul National University Hospital, which is hundreds of kilometres away from Moongyeong see the video and enter the results into the computer database.
Backed by these services, the hospital has been able to check the symptoms of confirmed patients in real time and transfer patients with aggravated symptoms to larger neighbouring hospitals.
Telemedicine using apps (private sector)
In these circumstances, several start-ups have begun to develop telemedicine service apps. Patients can log onto the Meredith app, select the hospital they want to visit, and make an appointment to see a doctor.
They can receive remote medical advice via video call using the Telemedicine Treatment Room menu provided by the app. Prescriptions are sent to the pharmacy designated by the patient.
Doctor provides a service called Corona virus 119 where self-reporting their symptoms allows patients to receive medical treatment and prescriptions. Corona virus 119 service gives patients access to general diagnoses for a cough or cold alongside remote treatment and prescriptions for suspected coronavirus symptoms.
If an app user is suspected of being infected with COVID-19, they will then be connected to the 1339 hotline. There, they can receive a diagnosis and receive a prescription from a doctor by phone after filling out a questionnaire that screens for symptoms.
Telemedicine using apps leads patients to answer questions about their medical history through mobile devices. The services are highly convenient and efficient, while also preventing contagion that could occur during direct hospital visits.
Predictive Research on the Spread of COVID-19
The government is making full use of Korea’s research capabilities to support the decision-making process of the infection control authorities, such as, sharing data, for accurate and reliable prediction of the spread of COVID-19.
The Korean government is supporting predictive research on the spread of COVID-19 carried out by Korean researchers using diverse methods, by identifying and sharing data that can be used by researchers within the scope of data protection and also by helping researchers establish a professional network among them.
Such support will be useful for forecasting the macroscopic spread of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of response measures, which will be helpful when making decisions needed for infection control.
For example, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) used a supercomputer and Individual Simulation for Transfer Phenomena, KIST’s own modelling method, to analyse the effectiveness of disease control measures taken by the Korean government.
The results from the analysis shows that if social distancing measures had not been taken by the Korean government in the late February, the number of newly confirmed cases per day would have soared to maximum 4,000, indicating the importance of social distancing.
Creating apps related to COVID-19
The development of coronavirus apps is ongoing in Korea. During the initial stages of the outbreak, a university student created the “Corona virus Map” app which informs users of the movements of confirmed patients based on information released by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
Since, the virus has spread to dozens of areas across the nation and the outbreak has become prolonged, many start-ups have also developed apps, providing a wide range of information and functions.
The app “Now and Here” calculates a mix of risk factors in surrounding areas when users enter their commuting routes. Moreover, if users record their own routes, the app serves the function of comparing the user’s paths with those previously taken by confirmed patients or new patients diagnosed with the coronavirus.
If the user has been at the same place as a confirmed patient at a similar time, the app suggests when and where testing is available. The app Cobaek (an alert for coronavirus within 100 meters) sends an alarm when users are within 100 meters of a place that a confirmed patient visited.
With the alarm on, users are saved the hassle of checking the details of paths taken by confirmed patients. This convenient app has been downloaded hundreds of times. The app was then upgraded to the Cobaek Plus version with the addition of alerts for the availability of publicly provided masks at pharmacies.
Social service personnel from Gyeongsangnam-do produced an app tailored to the region that provides information on the movements of confirmed patients in the region. Using Google Maps, this app displays details on the movement and visits of infected citizens based on the user’s location and a coronavirus patients’ visits to different areas are clearly marked.
The app developers came to realize the inconvenience caused by having to check two apps to discover the paths taken by confirmed patients and locations selling publicly provided masks, despite increasing demand from residents for information on where masks could be purchased.
Accordingly, residents can now receive updates on both through a single app. The number of masks currently available at a given location is announced by color: green (more than 100), yellow (between 30 and 99), red (below 30), and grey (none available), and the information on mask sellers is automatically updated in accordance with the materials publicly released by the National Information Society Agency (NIA).
ICT facilitates COVID-19 TREATMENT:
Research to facilitate drug re-purposing
The government, research institutes and businesses have cooperated to identify candidate drugs for COVID-19 treatment through drug re-purposing, and conducted clinical studies with confirmed patients.
To secure treatments for COVID-19 as quickly as possible, the Korean government is supporting the re purposing of drugs to identify those that are effective against COVID-19. Compared to the development of a new treatment, which generally takes over a decade, drug re purposing only requires efficacy evaluation and can help find COVID-19 treatment in the near future.
To maximize the capabilities and resources of relevant agencies for effective drug repurposing research, the Korean government formed a drug repurposing council, composed of the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology (KRICT), Institute Pasteur Korea, the Korea Research Institute of Bio science and Biotechnology (KRIBB), the Korea Mouse Phenotyping Center (KMPC), and Korea University.
Drug repositioning aims to validate the efficacy of existing drugs in cells (drug screening), provide the results to healthcare professionals, and test the repositioned drug to patients. Animal testing might be put in place for efficacy validation to provide additional information to healthcare workers.
Developing medicine using AI
Furthermore, the use of AI is expected to reduce the time required to develop medicine, as AI can learn and make deductions based on the virus and other medical data. Company D, which develops new medicine and relevant platforms through the use of AI, used deep learning algorithms to predict the interaction of drug and protein, and propose candidate medicine for the coronavirus.
Company D and the research team at Danguk University under Kang Geunsoo have used AI to analyze the antiviral drugs on the market to predict medicines that may be effective against the COVID-19.
The result of this study was published through a BioRxiv under the title, ‘Predicting commercially available antiviral drugs that may act on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), Wuhan, China through a drug-target interaction deep learning model.’
According to the research, Company D and the researchers used pre-trained deep learning-based drug-target interaction model called Molecule Transformer-Drug Target Interaction (MT-DTI) to identify commercially available drugs that could act on viral proteins of SARS-CoV-2. The result showed that atazanavir, an antiretroviral medication used to treat and prevent
the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), is the best chemical compound. In addition, the researchers also found that several antiviral agents, such as Kaletra, could be used for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2. Overall, the research suggests that the list of antiviral drugs identified by the MT-DTI model should be considered, when establishing effective treatment strategies for SARS-CoV-2.
Humanity has usually been at war against each other. But this time, almost every country fight against the same enemy, an invisible micro-pathogen.
The success or failure of this fight will naturally be a measure of the overall capacity of a country, and will have great implications for global community and history. We hope this study will be a small but meaningful policy guides for the international community and especially those developing countries by sharing Korea’s experiences and countermeasures against COVID-19 over the past three months.
COVID-19 countermeasures taken by the Korean government will not be conclusive nor the Korean case cannot be a universal key for all countries’ fight against COVID-19. With that in mind, we can have following five lessons from the Korean government’s response to COVID-19 using ICT.
Finally, we should together make best efforts to turn the crisis into opportunity and make the best use of the cutting- edge ICT technologies in forefront of fight against COVID-19.
We should also work together by making every information gathered on COVID-19 readily available to all.
Any information on fight against COVID-19 is a public good, and it should be provided quickly to everyone in need and in their fight against COVID-19, as they must act and response most quick and swift manner. In this pandemic we are all connected, any wisdom and experience must be also shared quickly and fairly.