Lockdown data to guide policy formulation post-COVID 19

US’ Center for Disease Control (CDS) has invited applications for the first-ever ‘Chief Data Officer’. This is enough to indicate the importance of data analytics in the post-pandemic world. However, given the huge amount of data being generated due to the ensuing pandemic, the importance of data analytics will not be confined only to public health policies. The United Nations also need to prepare mechanisms to ensure the ethical use of data analytics and AI-based technological innovations in the post-COVID 19 world. 

COE-EDPCOE-EDP | Updated: 24-12-2020 11:13 IST | Created: 19-04-2020 00:12 IST
Lockdown data to guide policy formulation post-COVID 19
Representative image Image Credit: Flickr
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Infinite. This seems the only suitable word to assess the huge amount of data being generated due to the ensuing COVID 19 pandemic and the global lockdown caused by it.

We can broadly classify the data into two categories – Deliberate and Non-Deliberate. The first category of the data is being generated by governments as part of their response plan to the pandemic while the second category of data is being automatically generated due to the global lockdown. As the governments have well-defined objectives to create and use the data they are generating to control the outbreak of COVID 19 in their respective territories, this category of data is immediately being used in their outbreak response plans such as communication campaigns, diseases prevention, social distancing, awareness campaigns, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment with the help of AI (Artificial Intelligence) based technological innovations particularly mobile apps, dashboard, websites, etc. In addition to the urgent disease containment plans, the first category of data will also be crucial for assessing health systems, developing pandemic/epidemic/outbreak resilience plans and assessing economic impacts to improve future resilience. However, the collection and use of the second category of data is likely to guide the national and global policies for the years from transport planning, supply chain management, global warming, carbon emission, climate change, biodiversity, regional cooperation, geopolitics and much more.

How this infinite data will be used? The answer is - in infinite ways. This is because the process of data generation is continuing. And, it will continue even after the pandemic is fully controlled. The response plan and recovery path of economies from this pandemic will also generate huge data. According to the USA based market research company MarketsandMarkets, the global Customer Analytics Market is projected to grow from US$ 10.5 billion in 2020 to $ 24.2 billion by 2025, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 18.2 percent during the forecast period. Here we present an analysis to provide you with a window to peep into the future of data analytics.

Pandemic Response Plan and Public Health Policy

With the help of data analytics, the countries are updating and implementing their outbreak response and resilience plans. South Korea is credited to make a lead in the collection and use of data through the proper application of AI-based technological innovations.

It was due to the help of several mobile apps, voluntary data collection for monitoring mobility of people, self-assessment and alert messages, South Korea effectively controlled the outbreak of COVID 19. India has also recently launched Aarogya Setu, a mobile app with several interactive features including sending COVID 19 alerts. The Catalonian (Spain) government's STOP COVID 19 CAT and New York City's DOHMH are also examples of the use of data analytics in providing real-time information. In addition to the WHO's dashboard and 'myth busters' for COVID 19, the governments throughout the world are trying to generate maximum possible data and apply AI-based data analytics to enhance their pandemic response plan. The governments are fast moving towards AI-based applications in detecting hotspots, implementing containment plans, identifying suspects, testing, contact tracing, quarantine, monitoring, and surveillance, etc. Besides, the patients' response to drugs, vaccines, and prognosis all are being monitored through AI-based technologies. CDC's first-ever Chief Data Officer will be responsible for a complete overhaul of its data analysis system besides facilitating data governance, data policy, innovation, application, and improvement, etc.

AI major Black Swan Data's subsidiary White Swan along with Imperial College of London is working to develop an NLP (Natural Language Processing) which would enable the medical researchers to search for answers from 44,000 research papers on coronavirus without reading them. If successful, the NLP will make a revolution in research in the post-COVID 19 world by drastically reducing the time used in the 'literature review'.

Traffic and Transport Planning

Several cities/ countries are now using mobile location data for tracking the movement of their population not only for surveillance and monitoring but also for traffic management and economic activities.

Belgium has developed a mobility index to trace the movement of the population and the data is being used for surveillance and contract tracing. City Mapper Mobility Index provides population mobility of various cities and comparative analysis of mobility. Several applications have been developed to implement social distancing such as USA's social distancing dashboard by unacast, Beijing's subway by appointment and Financial Times' TomTom' are a few amongst them. The real-time location data being availed by mobile users is playing an effective role in controlling the outbreak of COVID 19. Besides, it also has strong potential for traffic and transport planning in the post-COVID 19 world particularly for decongestion plans, road traffic management, regional transport plans, micro-mobility, and sustainable transport planning.

Virtual offices and work from home is another dimension to this lockdown. As communication technologies are being used for professional purposes, the burden on the internet of things (IoT) has increased. The increased amount of data and activities on the internet will also result in a proportionate increase in cybersecurity concerns and provide insights to researchers for future technological innovations.


Throughout the world, we are seeing the noble faces of government agencies. They are providing all the essential services to the poor and needy people on real-time demand basis. Data analytics has a big role to play if they decide to implement these lessons in policy formulation.

The location-based data could be used in mapping and profiling of risk communities. Kenya is profiling risk communities through the proper application of location data, age data, smocking data, and epidemiological models. It's for the first the countries are getting need-based real-time data on the requirement of essential commodities in their population. This profiling will go a long way in planning for essential supplies and helps in the case of natural disasters and disease outbreaks in the future. Besides, the data will also help the governments in controlling corruption in the public delivery system.

Management of Natural Resources

The natural resources on this planet are the biggest beneficiaries of the global lockdown caused by COVID 19 pandemic. Clean water is now flowing in several rivers, sea beaches, lakes, and other water bodies. The highly polluted cities of the pre-COVID 19 periods are providing free breathable air.

These data are by-products of lockdown and hence generated non-deliberately or we can say nature has provided this data to the human being on this planet to make policies for environment conservation. There had been several plans and policies for the conservation of natural resources, biodiversity and environment protection at national as well as global levels. But, the results of lockdown in achieving the targets are unparalleled.

SDG 2030 (Sustainable Development Goals), the flagship program of the United Nations, was failing to achieve the targets of Climate Action (SDG 13) and several other SDGs related to environment protection such as SDG 7 (Clean and Sustainable Energy), SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 14 (Life Below Water) and SDG 15 (Life on Land). Though the lockdown caused by the ensuing pandemic is cruel and devastating for economies, the data analytics may help to translate the forced lockdown into an economically viable option achieving the SDG 2030 through sustainable environmental policies, management of natural resources and biodiversity conservation. According to Global Commission on Adaption an investment of about $1.8 trillion in building resilience against climate change in next decade in five areas – early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, improved dryland agriculture, mangrove protection, and investments in making water resources more resilient; could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits, globally.

In addition to the COVID 19, previous disease outbreaks were also linked with loss in biodiversity. Deforestation has been linked to 31 percent of disease outbreaks and epidemics of Ebola, Zika, and Dengue were found associated with loss in biodiversity and climate change. According to estimates, about 75 percent of infectious diseases come from wildlife.

Patrick Verkooijen, CEO, Global Center on Adaption has cautioned the governments on similar disasters in the future due to climate emergencies. "The pandemic has revealed some home truths - that disasters do not respect borders, that solidarity brings strength, that science and expert advice matter, and that delay is deadly," said Verkooijen urging to flattening the Climate Curve in the post-COVID 19 World.

e-Business / e-Commerce

The e-commerce giants are getting huge data to plan for their business strategies during the pandemic and also for the post-pandemic world. However, local retailers are also emerging as competitors.

In the pre-COVID 19 worlds these retailers were dependent on the consumers approaching them in their shops. But, in the ensuing pandemic, they have also been provided passes/ permissions for home delivery with their limited resources. If they could solve their technological hurdles these local retailers may develop their niche. According to the research of MarketsandMarkets e-commerce and retails will get maximum benefits of data analytics out of which big companies will be the biggest beneficiaries.

Changing the search behavior of people on search engines is also generating huge data for future planning. According to a recent report of the Google, people are now focusing in five areas – assessing critical information (retail, home delivery, short term work), connections and relationships (study with me, cook with me, multiplier video games), adjusting to changes in routines, praising everyday heroes, and taking care of themselves and others. Besides, banking, insurance, pharmaceutical industry, and sea transport are also getting a huge amount of direct and indirect data. The pandemic will also open several new business opportunities in the post-COVID 19 worlds.

Geopolitics and world order

Though not in the public domain, the data are exposing weaknesses of governments throughout the world in their pandemic response plan through domestic resources, overseas purchasing of emergency supplies and equipment, regional coordination, and also managing the essential services for their population.

In the period of global lockdown, several countries have been isolated. They have been virtually cut off. Besides, the influential economies are also weighing their options. The travel restrictions have paralyzed several economies which will compel them towards inward-looking policies and regional coordination. The idea of globalization has been hit severely. According to a report, about 90 percent pharmaceutical supply of the US is dependent on Chinese companies that were taken over by the Chinese government at the time of the COVID 19 outbreak in Wuhan. Complains were also coming from European countries and several consignments from China were rejected.

The Way Ahead

This huge inflow of data is coming with a huge responsibility on the UN, its members and the whole human race on this planet. The pandemic has shown a way to convert the impossible into possible and make the planet a better place for future generations through policy formulations and planned interventions. Data analytics will provide inputs for policy formulation but the final implementation is dependent on humans.

Besides, there is another dimension to the issue. Under the panic of the pandemic and quite liberate approach of the governments, the people are providing their data but very soon the concerns of privacy will be raised. The governments will have to develop independent bodies to win the confidence of people for appropriate use of their data and address their concerns. They will have to develop mechanisms to address the concerns of privacy and requirements of data analytics in the greater public interest. In addition to this, e-commerce and social media giants are also required proper regulations at the national and international level.

Today, the United Nations has resolutions and treaties to deal with child rights, humans rights, domestic violence, gender equality, and several other areas. However, there is no comprehensive resolution or treaty to deal with giant companies related to the internet, social media, and e-commerce, etc. As the internet and AI-based technological innovations are impacting every aspect of human life, nations as well as nature, there is an urgent need for the United Nations to adopt a comprehensive resolution on data analytics, internet and AI-based technological innovations for the post-COVID 19 world.

Centre of Excellence on Emerging Development Perspectives (COE-EDP) is an initiative of VisionRI and aims to keep track of the transition trajectory of the global development sector and works towards conceptualization, development, and mainstreaming of innovative developmental approaches, frameworks, and practices.

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