The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been dramatic. More people have started working remotely, more distance learning is taking place and many businesses have been disrupted. How has technology helped us face the pandemic during the last few months?

Many of us have faced disruption in both our professional and personal lives. We have adapted to new work environments (such as the home kitchen) and been relying on technology even more than before.

In addition to helping us keep working, technology has played a major role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been through supporting research, aiding contact tracing and helping to diagnose new infections.

Remote working and distance learning

Due to nationwide lockdowns and government advice, more of us than before have had to work remotely. This has reduced how often people come into contact with each other and, as a result reduced the spread of COVID-19. However, it has also made conducting meetings and keeping up-to-date with colleagues more difficult.

We have been relying on communication tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to conduct meetings and keep in touch with colleagues, but they have also been used by educators to contact their pupils and continue their education.

Discovering effective drugs

Exploring the development of new drugs and the potential for repurposing existing drugs, has been an important part of the COVID-19 response. However, when there are billions of potential candidates, finding effective drugs is a process which can take years.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has supported the drug discovery process and reduced lengthy parts of the process to days or even hours. This has enabled discoveries to be made more quickly and improved scientists’ understanding of the virus.

Detecting COVID-19 infections

Technology is also helping with detecting COVID-19 infections. An algorithm has been developed which detects COVID-19 infections from a person’s cough. During tests this identified 98.5% participants who received a positive test result.

Fitbit also launched a COVID-19 study to find out if wearables can be used to detect infections. The study is collecting data from the wearable devices of participants. This is then being analysed to find out if they can be used to detect the onset of COVID-19. Initial results with the current algorithm showed that it could detect 21% of cases a day before symptoms appeared.

Contact tracing

Contact tracing has also had a technological helping hand. The NHS COVID-19 app was launched in September and now has been downloaded over 20 million times. The aim of the app is to alert people who have potentially been exposed to a person who receive a positive test result.

This is based upon the Exposure Notification technology developed by Apple and Google. This technology allows smartphones to anonymously log other nearby smartphones. When there is a positive test result, the logged smartphones then display an alert with more information on needed action.

Technology has helped efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic from the beginning. This has been through developing new apps, analysing information and, as a communication tool to keep everyone connected. Technology will likely continue to play an important role in this response and in the response to future pandemics.