Our best chance of controlling the coronavirus and limiting economic damage comes from a combination of widespread testing and artificial intelligence.
The financial and human toll of the “Great Lockdown,” sparked by the new coronavirus, rises with each passing day. A grim example may be seen in the United States, the world’s largest economy and the country struck worst by the virus, when a record 26 million people filed for jobless benefits in only one month. The extraordinary US$2 trillion bailout package’s Paycheck Protection Program for small firms has already ran out of money.
The repercussions will be felt all around the world and will be quite unpleasant. The International Monetary Fund predicts that the world economy will enter the worst recession since the Great Depression as a result of the ongoing government closure. Nevertheless, the United Nations’ estimate that hundreds of thousands of children will die as a result of economic hardship brought on by the epidemic is the darkest and bitterest of all, despite the fact that children are mainly immune to the virus itself.
Governments around the world are considering how to ease the restrictions now that the outbreak appears to have plateaued in certain areas. It’s a delicate balancing act, though. China’s economy has been struggling since it emerged from isolation after more than two months. It’s possible that certain countries will briefly win the war against the virus, but in a rapidly contracting global economy, no one wins. There is concern that a quick easing of restrictions will unleash a new round of diseases, necessitating more shutdowns. Because of these concerns, few few nations have set a firm deadline for the reopening of their economies.
How to prevent needless deaths and stimulate the economy
But is the best we can do indefinite lockdowns? Hopefully not! Our modern technology has allowed us to do feats that would have been impossible just a generation ago. In light of this, a successful plan for controlling the virus should be based on the same things that make the modern world so intelligent: information, data, and machinery. By putting them to use in three crucial areas, we can save lives and money.
Rapid diagnostic tests
The diagnostics industry has made great achievements in the private sector, both in terms of speed and accuracy. This rate of technical progress is unheard of, and it gives us reason to be optimistic. With each new development, the time required to receive test results reduced by a factor of ten within a matter of weeks, going from days to hours to minutes. Moreover, testing capacity has been significantly increased, albeit it still needs to grow.
Antibody blood tests are critical for combating both COVID-19 and the economic consequences, as these tests detect immunological molecules created by the body to fight viral infections. Antibody tests designed specifically for the new coronavirus number in the dozens. Although there are limitations to the tests, including the possibility of false positives (indicating the presence of antibodies when none are present), and the tests’ reliability is still up for debate, they show promise in performing three useful roles.
For one, they are our best hope of determining the full scope of the epidemic. Antibody tests distinguish between those who were infected and recovered, as well as those who were asymptomatic, whereas diagnostic tests detect an active infection. Knowing the true infection and fatality rates is essential for making informed decisions about the disease’s management.
Certain antibody tests can also be used to find persons who can give blood to others who are COVID-19. The United States Food and Drug Administration is advocating for the donation of plasma high in antibodies from cured patients. Antibody testing may one day be used to determine who may return to work after being out with an illness.
Artificial intelligence and other advanced data analytics tools
These tools have the potential to do a number of things, like forecast where and when the virus will spread, identify potential treatments for COVID-19, and track the emotional toll of the epidemic. Valid and extensive data from diagnostic and antibody testing, as well as treatment experiences, would be necessary for these technologies to be developed.
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The aforementioned technologies, when used together, would allow us to identify and control emerging infections more quickly, as well as selectively segregate and protect individuals at highest risk. The economy might be revived and lives spared in the process.
These solutions are not without their flaws and may even create new problems, such as those pertaining to privacy. Nevertheless, the alternative, protracted, system-wide shutdowns, is even more undesirable. As the past has shown, the finest solutions emerge from the inventiveness and spirit of the human race, even in the most dire of circumstances. That’s the course we ought to take. Furthermore, we may transform this crisis into an opportunity for long-term growth by using it to make significant long-term investments in infrastructure (both physical and intellectual).