Expert advises public, private sectors invest in modern technology as in HK, Taiwan, Singapore

Long-term solutions even after present pandemic

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The public and private sectors should invest in the latest technologies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and remotely identify those who had contracted the virus to minimise disruptions to the economy, Pharmaceutical and healthcare management consultant Dr. Sanjaya Perera told The Island yesterday.

Dr. Perera said that since 2020 three lockdowns had been imposed, but the country had not benefited.

“We have also imposed lockdowns at the wrong times. We allowed people to party in April 2021. We also relaxed too fast when experts said we have the delta variant in Colombo. Everyone agrees that closing the country almost at regular intervals is bad, we have to take steps so that this doesn’t happen,” he said.

Perera, who works as a consultant in East Asia and Europe said that investment in new technology and adhering to strict travel guidelines had helped many institutions to function without continuous disruptions. Last year, a number of institutions had introduced machines that could easily detect those with COVID-19 and protect those who worked in air conditioned environments, he said.

“For example there are new technologies like infrared thermal monitoring, which are widely used in Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. High-performance infrared thermal cameras are set-up at airports or at entrances to offices to capture people’s thermal images in real time, easily identifying people with fever. There are new machines powered by artificial intelligence that can identify those who have 0.01 higher temperature. These machines can also work as an attendance register that can be accessed by HR officers from anywhere. I am glad that some top private firms have already set up these machines,” he said.

Perera said that Sri Lanka had kept its airports open for the most part of the pandemic and a number of COVID-19 infected people had come through without detection. Health sector unions had called for stricter measures but the government had cited inconveniences to passengers for not implementing tougher policies.

“Singapore Airport is now using a breath test to detect Covid-19 that gives accurate results within a minute. A person blows into a one-way valve mouthpiece, and compounds in the person’s breath – think of it as a breath signature – are compared by machine learning software against the sort of breath signature that would be expected from someone who’s Covid-positive. We can clear passengers in minutes. If the government wants to keep the airport open it should invest in these technologies,” he said.

Dr. Perera pointed out that SARS-CoV-2 could remain on various surfaces and that caused serious issues when schools, offices and factories were open. The virus could remain outside, especially in places that were not exposed to the sun and in air conditioned places.

In the past year researchers had looked at UV radiation, in particular UV-C to inactivate different viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, he added

“With machines that emit UV-C radiation you can easily disinfect surfaces. If you place such a machine near an AC machine, it can kill most of the viruses there. There are also handheld devices that people can use to disinfect documents, pens, and other things that you touch. Another technology we can use is pathogen testing. We can place this unit at the office, and it will capture pathogens that people at work emit. At the end of the day, a lab can test and find out if a person there has contracted COVID-19. This way we don’t need to check everyone at work, we can just check the people who came on that day,” he said.

Dr. Perera said that while some of those technologies were expensive, investing on the long term solutions and protocols would benefit the economy greatly in the long term. Already the government spent large amounts of money on testing, quarantining and treating people and frequent lockdowns too had cost colossal sums, he said.

“Also these investments are not only for COVID-19. Even if COVID goes away, we can still use this equipment to make the office environment safer for the workers. A healthy workforce is good for business and both the private and public sector must understand this,” he said.

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