Coronavirus 2019-nCov is not the first epidemic originally from China that the authorities have faced over the past two decades. Last time, the SARS virus spread to China 17 years ago, in 2003, and became a great test for the Chinese authorities. But since then, China has built the world’s largest citizen control system using digital technology. Did this help control the spread of the epidemic?
Lessons of the past
The main weapon of the Chinese authorities this time is exponential openness. During the previous pandemic, the Chinese leadership, first on the ground, then at the highest level, for a long time withheld information about the scale of the epidemic and lost control over the situation. This time, Xi Jinping personally led the fight against the virus. On YouTube, there is an endless broadcast of how new hospitals are being built at an accelerated pace in Wuchang, data on all patients are collected in interactive maps, and Chinese scientists are exchanging information with the global community to quickly develop a vaccine.
To fight the spread of the virus, the Chinese authorities took extremely harsh measures. Wuchang, which has 11 million people, was completely quarantined, and roadblocks are set up to identify cases. Tech giants are also at the forefront. WeChat has launched a mini-application through which you can report new outbreaks of the virus and any incidents that are related to the epidemic, Tiktok completed video tutorials on how to protect oneself from the disease, Taobao, the largest Chinese online store, struggling with speculation and regulating prices for medical masks.
Social networks – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok – are crowded with fakes about the Coronavirus and are now focused on fighting their spread.
But there is no convincing evidence that the Chinese authorities use their arsenal of repressive technologies to detect cases. Face recognition cameras installed everywhere, for example, are not suitable. “In the ideal world of Chinese dystopia, the social rating assigned to you would depend on how strictly you observe quarantine, whether you spread panic, or work as a volunteer. But while the system of social loans is at the stage of local experiments, there is no such a powerful tool for creating incentives to behave correctly.
For the first time, an outbreak of Сoronavirus in China was talked about on January 6, and the WHO only spoke about the epidemic on January 9. But a week before this, a big data virus outbreak detected the Canadian startup BlueDot, which makes an AI platform for monitoring infections. Before the New Year, December 31, the service sent out a warning to subscribers about an outbreak of flu-like illness in Wuсhang.
Artificial Intelligence BlueDot analyzes data in 65 languages, catching disease news and messages on forums and social networks. The virus propagation path is modeled based on passenger traffic and according to reservation services. This is not the first time that BlueDot is so accurate. In 2016, it determined the route of the Zika virus and predicted where the first person to be ill in the United States. And the service is credited with removing continuous restrictions on Americans traveling to the Olympics in Brazil in 2016. Experts confirmed that in major cities the risk of illness is negligible.
More than 300 people have already died from Coronavirus – the statistics are disappointing, in a week their number has almost tripled. But there were much more who were cured. There are already 348 of them.
Losses of technology companies
An obvious assumption was confirmed that both Chinese tech giants and Apple, which has most of its production facilities in China, are waiting for supply problems. Chinese Huawei, Xiaomi, Vivo, Realme, ZTE, and Lenovo are postponing the delivery of smartphones to Russia. The same problem may affect Apple, which in March planned to release a new budget smartphone.
At least half of all Apple iPhones are made in Zhengzhou, China, which is even called iPhone City, in factories at Foxconn’s main manufacturing partner. The city is located 500 km from Wuchang – the distance is large, but not enough to save the company from the consequences. Apple factories, like all other companies that do not manufacture vital things, are closed for the holidays until February 10. This happened exactly a week after it became known that the company is increasing the production of chips before the release of new iPhones.
If the epidemic does not decline, the holidays may extend for another. Technological companies most likely have no spare options: to produce products of the same Apple, you need to have licensed production, and finding and licensing new suppliers in the short term is quite difficult. The whole question is when the suppliers’ factories will leave the holidays, and how big will be the loss of companies from these down times. One possible solution is that after February 10, the authorities will allow a limited number of employees to go to work with strict restrictions and quarantine costs.
The consequences of global disruptions in supply chains can be felt for years. Over the 17 years that have passed since the SARS epidemic, China doubled its share in world exports, and production in January and February has already fallen by 20% from the average annual value. The epidemic will affect even those industries where there are few Chinese components. They will not be able to quickly find a replacement.
So far, global companies export their employees from China and forbid them to travel there on business trips.
About the author
Melisa Marzett is a freelance writer who is also a traveler and an animal rights activist. Writing articles for best editor network, she enjoys the writing process. She is much of a reader herself, who loves classic literature and fond of psychology. She is planning on writing a book one day, which would become a bestseller. She likes everything bookish, films about writers, TV-series, based on true events stuff and documentaries. She finds inspiration wherever she goes, whatever she does and whomever she meets.