Currently, the #StayAtHome hashtag is trending on social media, urging the public to adhere to the government’s Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) in Malaysia to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which is also known as COVID-19. The COVID-19 outbreak was first reported in Wuhan, China, and the disease has since spread to 215 countries and territories around the world as of May 19, 2020.
When COVID-19 was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on Jan 30, 2020, by the World Health Organisation (WHO), it was the biggest news people were looking for globally. Soon after, WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020.
During the COVID-19 crisis, telecommunication networks are so vital to our health and safety as well as to maintain our society working. To help people track the latest information about this widespread disease, it is worth noting that 5G technology helps in connecting people with COVID-19 information and resources in an exponentially faster download and upload speeds with much lower latency (time it takes devices to communicate with wireless networks).
What is 5G?
5G is the fifth generation of wireless communications technologies supporting cellular data networks. It is the next generation of mobile broadband that will eventually replace, if not augment, the 4G LTE connection.
What are the roles of 5G technology to fight COVID-19?
1. 5G technology enables various platforms to provide the latest and reliable news development on COVID-19, alongside with information from WHO and localised health authorities. More and more platforms are introducing a comprehensive experience in COVID-19 search, which provide live trackers, visualisations, dashboards and in-depth data analysis, which require high-speed Internet connectivity.
2. This next generation of mobile Internet connection which offers much faster data download and upload speeds allows more people to work remotely from home and provide online trading. With the current restricted movement control, 5G supports the need for virtual meetings to work on projects and communicate globally without restriction.
Advances in 5G technology enable students to keep up with their studies via online and remote learning. 5G is vital in providing stable and higher network capacities in line with the online classes conducted in order to keep up with the increasing network traffic demands. Many prominent universities are providing free online courses and we can take this chance to do self-improvement.
3. Extensive entry screening at airports and public areas such as shopping malls is done as high body temperature is the most apparent symptom of COVID-19. The 5G infrared thermal imaging temperature measurement can detect an individual’s body temperature from as far as 10 metres away. This is helpful in providing contactless temperature-based pre-screening of large crowds.
4. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for face masks is booming like mushrooms after rain. The usage of 5G can facilitate intelligent manufacturing in factories with precise remote control of equipment to increase the efficiency of the production line. Thereby, it helps to meet the huge demand for face masks worldwide as infection numbers surge and minimise the size of manpower.
5. With its immensely low latency, 5G technology enables the remote control of heavy machinery. For example, in Wuhan, during the COVID-19 crisis, 5G-enabled robots checked patient temperatures, delivered drugs, guided routes as well as cleaned and disinfected rooms. The robots are designed to help treat patients and to reduce the risk of human exposure to coronavirus by minimising person-to-person contact.
The specialists in Wuhan are remotely diagnosing new cases and support the local physicians by using 5G to control medical equipment across the country. Employing the 5G cloud, some hospitals in Wuhan are provided with a computed tomography (CT) and X-ray coordination solution. This approach helps to overcome the shortage of radiologists at Wuhan and, hence, increase the efficiency of screening suspected COVID-19-infected people.
Alternatively, 5G technology can be utilised for online consultation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The use of online consultation via video chat by healthcare professionals can be an alternative to deliver psychological care and therapy. The online consultations help to reduce the risk of the infection that can take place during hospital visits.
6. 5G technology has brought about a new way of epidemic surveillance and patrol in public places. This opens the gateway to the communications technology for the drone, an unmanned aerial vehicle. In China and France, 5G-powered drones equipped with voice broadcast systems are deployed to broadcast coronavirus health warnings and carry out aerial patrols. Some authorities are using the drone to disinfect areas and to transport medical samples. In Malaysia, more than 10 units of drones, equipped with heat-sensing technology and speakers for delivery of messages in Malay, Mandarin and Tamil, are used to control and monitor public movement.
In the fight against COVID-19, the advent of 5G technology is timely indeed as the global networks are facing rising demand during this crisis. It is the communication technology that is able to connect us better and make us safer and stronger at home, and to keep in touch with loved ones, wherever we are.
Dr Wendy Yeo Wai Yeng is a lecturer in Biochemistry/Medical Biotechnology at the Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine.