Governments are shifting services online as COVID-19 spreads around the world. Image: REUTERS/Njeri Mwangi
Explore and monitor how COVID-19 is affecting economies, industries and global issues
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:
- Governments are shifting to digital amid the coronavirus pandemic.
- Still more than 40% of countries had no information about COVID-19 on their websites at the end of March.
- Technology can be key to improving resilience to disasters, the United Nations says, but also creates vulnerabilities and risks around data privacy.
Getting information and vital services to citizens digitally has never been more important than during the COVID-19 pandemic, but UN research shows there are significant differences in how successful countries have been in communicating with their citizens.
While many governments already provide information and services on national portals, mobile apps, or through social media, many are now finding they need to accelerate initiatives to move online, amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Around 86% of the 193 United Nations member states included information and guidance about COVID-19 on their government websites by 8 April, according to a UN review. However, the analysis showed that more than 40% of countries did not provide any information at the end of March.
What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?
“It is vital for governments to provide accurate, useful and up-to-date information to people, particularly during times of crisis,” says the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Economic Analysis (UN DESA). “Reliable information from governments helps people make informed decisions about their daily routines, build public trust, as well as enables public authorities to act decisively to flatten the curve.”
A creative approach
Technology can offer many solutions in times of social distancing, including virtual doctors and access to information regarding the latest policies and economic and social support. The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing governments to be more creative in how they respond to their citizens’ needs. The UN stressed that while harnessing tech is beneficial overall, countries should be mindful of the risk of misuse, data privacy concerns, and ensuring citizens without internet access are not left behind.
The report says: “Navigating these challenging times requires governments to adopt an open government approach and to use digital communication channels to provide reliable information. E-participation platforms can represent useful tools to engage with vulnerable groups online and establish digital initiatives to collectively brainstorm for policy ideas to critical social and economic challenges.”
Legacy for the future
The writers suggested pathways for success that will leave a strong legacy for the future, including: working harder to engage people; striking effective public-private partnerships, by sharing technologies, expertise and tools; and accelerating the adoption of cutting-edge technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.
“In the long-term, governments need to accelerate the implementation of innovative digital technologies such as AI-powered technology, blockchain, and drones. Investments in these technologies can support the future resilience of the health economy and public services delivery.”
The UN said digital technologies can also be key to improving resilience to disasters and other shocks, in a separate review of e-governments.
Some countries are already ahead of the curve. For example, in Estonia, 99% of government services are already online after the implementation of e-Estonia. Their government has been working towards this point for many years and in 2000 declared internet access to be a human right.
The report warned that a “wave of fake news and viral hoaxes” threatens public trust in technology and jeopardises genuine government services. “Thousands of COVID-19 scam and malware sites have emerged on a daily basis, such as the sale of counterfeit surgical masks, fake self-testing kits and so on. In response, some governments have launched response units or campaigns to coordinate the fight against online misinformation about COVID-19.”
Don't miss any update on this topic
Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.
License and Republishing
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
More on COVID-19See all
January 8, 2024
October 11, 2023
August 8, 2023
Simon Nicholas Williams
May 9, 2023
Philip Clarke, Jack Pollard and Mara Violato
April 17, 2023