With UK coronavirus (COVID-19) cases rising rapidly by the day, the concept of the country reaching similar case levels to that of Italy is now a plausible concern.
For members of the general public – particularly those with underlying health conditions – the sharp rise in COVID-19 victims has resulted in widespread panic, with the majority of individuals now understanding the severity of the virus and succumbing to the Government’s request to ‘Stay Home’.
As speculation circulates as to how long this ‘lockdown’ period will last or whether the UK Government will be able to ‘turn the tide’ in the PM’s proposed 12-week period, the general public have no assurance as to how or when this pandemic will end.
To date, social media has been widely criticised for increasing public hysteria by propagating the spread of misinformation about the virus. As a result, tech giants were summoned to No.10 to discuss how they could crack down on ‘fake news’ and ensure that only relevant and helpful content surrounding the coronavirus made it to the top of their SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
Whilst undoubtedly a valuable outcome, this meeting represented a missed opportunity for the Government to discuss other ways that social media platforms could be used to help control the spread of COVID-19, far beyond the publication of informative content.
Complex Algorithms = Valuable Data
The complex algorithms behind social media platforms and search engines like Google generate a huge amount of user data, ranging from the location and demographics of individual web users through to their search history and online behaviours.
In recent years, Google and Facebook have been able to utilise and manipulate this data to drive increased advertising revenue, demonstrating a unique understanding of how web users interact and behave online.
These data insights, available to and tracked by the globe’s tech giants, present a real opportunity to help the Government in halting the spread of COVID-19.
Statistics tell us that over 80% of us “Google” our symptoms when feeling unwell. During the coronavirus pandemic, this figure is far more likely to rise nearer to the 100% mark. This means that Google’s algorithms, for instance, will be able to provide valuable insights into the volume and geography of COVID-19 related searches, providing a strong impression of which areas are at the highest level of risk at a very early stage.
When the same cluster of people then search for information about what they should do if they suspect they have or are experiencing worsening symptoms of coronavirus, algorithms could easily predict the growth of virus ‘hot spots’ within the UK, whilst providing a more accurate insight into the number of people who actually have and are suffering with the virus.
Currently, we are reliant on people self-isolating for 14 days should they have symptoms of coronavirus. Under current government advice, those infected are only able to contact 111 if their symptoms worsen, which means officials are quickly losing insight into the number of people actually carrying the virus, together with the areas of the country (outside of London) likely to require additional medical support.
Data surrounding web users could accurately pre-empt and map where an increasing number of coronavirus cases are likely to be reported. In understanding this, not only could Public Health England receive a detailed and accurate insight into the severity of the outbreak, but they can also make more informed decisions that will benefit the public and minimise casualties, such as extending lockdown periods in specific regions of the country and deploying additional medical staff to hospitals more likely to be inundated with suffering patients.
Joining Forces With The Government
With the majority of business owners now fighting to survive in these ‘unprecedented times’, it is vital to look to alternative measures to help limit both the economic and physiological strain imposed by the coronavirus.
The UK has always prided itself on its level of accurate intelligence, enabling us to prevent some of most devastating of crimes, such as those planned by terrorist organisations.
Calling on intelligence to analyse algorithmic data related to the coronavirus could accurately map regional outbreaks and quickly isolate those thought to have contracted the disease, whilst helping to gain greater insight into how the disease spreads.
Ultimately, major online platforms can and need to play a critical role in this all-hands-on-deck effort. In order to do so, they must work closely with the Government, and one another, to bring this crisis to a close.
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