• China, South Korea and Taiwan are just some of the places using Big Data, AI and other emerging technologies to manage the effects and mitigate the risks of COVID-19;
  • Jamaica and several countries in continental Africa offer good examples of leadership approaches that have helped at this time of crisis;
  • In those nations where Fourth Industrial Revolution technology is not yet available, sound leadership is of paramount importance.

As global COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the unmatched connectivity that defines our era serves as both bane and blessing. Our interconnected livelihoods allow for the rapid spread of both disease and cure.

We must embrace the tools of tomorrow to defend the security of our future, and good leadership is needed now more than ever.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution gives us the tools we need to battle this global threat

Our ability to create a dynamic and interconnected framework of health data has never been more necessary. Taiwan, which has managed to successfully quell its caseload, has adopted a highly data-driven approach to battling COVID-19. Taking advantage of big data, they have created heavily resourced databases to track and predict infectious risk used in conjunction with extensive airport screening protocols. Mobile tracking has also been used to ensure high-risk individuals are quarantined at home, effectively enforcing social-distancing.

Similar tools, involving the mapping of potential carriers, have also been used in Singapore and South Korea. Other countries are invited to strongly consider their utility in flattening the proverbial curve.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has also been of great use in enabling states to manage their caseload. Notwithstanding privacy concerns, analysis of personal, travel and clinical data allows for accurate predictive modelling that can inform infectious and mortality risk assessments. Furthermore, AI can be a valuable triage tool through virtual chatbots, a considerably important resource in scenarios of high clinical demand.

Several AI models have been used in China to increase diagnostic rates by interpreting radiographic results in a fraction of the time required for human intervention, thereby filling gaps resulting from unavailable clinical expertise. China has also harnessed the power of robots and drones, which have proven instrumental in reducing interpersonal contact by facilitating the delivery of food and medication and the disinfection of public spaces.

These tools of tomorrow have considerably enabled and enhanced our efforts in this global response, but good execution must be balanced by good strategy. Countries that are unable to immediately harness the capabilities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution must rely on swift and strategic action.

If we do not have the tools of tomorrow, we must have the leadership of today

Having been rapidly thrust into uncharted waters, our current reality calls for responsible leadership. COVID-19 has immediately altered the ways in which we live, work and relate to our surroundings, and the ability to adapt, engage and inspire through a crisis is more important than ever before.

Leadership through COVID-19 has often taken the form of responsive and decisive action. Like China, the Czech Republic swiftly implemented universal use of masks in conjunction with lockdown efforts, successfully driving a flattening of the curve. Jamaica, a dot on the global map, has implemented swift and strategic measures to contain the virus through early public sensitization and the thorough pursuit of health literacy en masse. In addition to strict and early social measures, clinical resources have been rapidly procured and early case recognition has been strongly prioritized through a commendable level of forethought.

Several other Caribbean islands (particularly the Cayman Islands and St. Vincent & the Grenadines) have stayed ahead of the curve by preparing themselves for COVID-19 before the reality of the threat approached their shores. Like Jamaica, they have been quick to implement curfews to mitigate community transmission and have communicated rapidly, transparently and thoroughly. These measures have put Jamaica on the global map in the COVID battle and its efforts have been publicly acknowledged by the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Several countries in continental Africa have been particularly proactive in responding to COVID-19. Senegal and Nigeria, with the scars of the Ebola outbreak etched in their recent memory, have readily and rapidly responded to COVID by strategically prioritizing aggressive testing. South Africa has embraced drive-through testing as an intelligent means of expediting diagnostic efforts.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

In Oceania, Australia has demonstrated a high level of proactivity in implementing aggressive isolation protocols that have been largely successful in keeping viral spread at bay. Such measures were also quickly implemented by Singapore and South Korea which, though supported by high levels of technological capability, serve as exemplars of leadership through a crisis that must be acknowledged.

We must do what we can with what we have in this COVID-19 fight

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has equipped society with highly potent tools and we must harness their capabilities, where possible, to win this fight. However, they cannot replace sound leadership. Leadership has emerged as a vital tool in states that have naïve technological infrastructures in healthcare and are forced to follow the eminent guiding words of Theodore Roosevelt in “doing what they can, with what they have”.

Where our leaders simply do not have the hands of technology to combat this threat, they must have the heart, brain, muscle, nerve and soul – elements of leadership as described by the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab. They may very well be our saviour in this fight for humanity.