To fight the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in India, the Department of Science and Technology is turning to surveillance technology, AI and IoT. The Technology Development Board (TDB) has invited applications from Indian companies to develop solutions related to surveillance and bioinformatics (combination of biology and tech to analyse biological data), and AI and IoT solutions for contact-less entry to monitor and control the spread of the disease. The deadline to submit the proposals is March 27. 390 people in India have tested positive for the virus, which has so far claimed 7 lives in the country, according to data maintained by the Health Ministry.

TDB is seeking proposals for the following as well:

  • Low cost masks which can capture virus from air and absorb respiratory droplets
  • Cost effective thermal scanning
  • Large area sanitisation and sterilisation (including electrostatic spray and Ultra Violet treatment for various available surfaces like glass, ceramic, wood, textile etc.)
  • Rapid and accurate diagnosis kit (paper based and other point of care devices)
  • Oxygenators and ventilators (low cost and portable)

TDB said that the proposals would be evaluated on the basis of scientific, technical, commercial, and financial merits. The Board also provides financial assistance by means of soft loans (up to 50% of project cost at 5% simple interest per annum), equity participation (up to a maximum of 25% of the project cost) or grant in exceptional cases.

Some surveillance is already happening: The invitation to develop surveillance tools for tracking COVID-19 cases in the country comes after the Karnataka government said that it would track phones of people placed under quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not the only one to consider such a drastic move. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has also asked the Mumbai Police to track movements of international travellers through their GPS locations.

Other countries have implemented similar moves

  • USA: Google, Facebook, and other major tech firms are in talks with the US government to use people’s location data to combat the spread of COVID-19, the Washington Post reported. The companies would share aggregated, anonymised data with the government to estimate the chances of transmission between different regions in the US. The measures could also be used to check if people adhere to government-ordered containment measures such as social distancing, the report said.
  • Israel: On March 17, the Israeli government approved emergency measures to monitor the mobile phones of people suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, the Guardian reported. Through this, the government will retrace the movements of such people to identify others who need to be quarantined. This technology was developed in Israel for counterrorism purposes. This cybermonitoring would be in effect for 30 days.
  • Iran: The Ministry of ICT developed an app that, on the face of it, asks users for their symptoms and geo-location to recommend nearest testing centres to you, but actually continues to monitor their location and monitors users’ physical activity (sitting, walking, running). Iranian researcher Nariman Gharib had first tweeted about and his claims were supported by Avast, the cyber security firm.
  • South Korea: The government has been sending text messages to its citizens that trace the movements of people who have recently been diagnosed with the virus, the Guardian reported.
  • Taiwan: The country enforced mandatory quarantine using phone tracking, the Guardian reported. Phones were tracked using SIM cards and their network stations.