Tech that has become essential in Covid-19 times
Throughout the world, there are variations of lockdowns being implemented. In Malaysia, it's the Movement Control Order (MCO) but in general, a lockdown functions to limit the movement of individuals to only essential tasks, closing down non-essential businesses and banning outdoor contact sports and religious gatherings.
For the common household, such a limitation of movement can be hard to swallow. This is particularly evident in those who have enjoyed the creature comforts of easy accessibility to food and luxury items anywhere, anytime.
Fortunately, new and old technologies are emerging to help everyone cope with these drastic changes. Here's a look at these tech and how some once considered niche are now getting more attention, around the world.
1. Food delivery apps and services
Food delivery services such as GrabFood and Foodpanda are essential in supporting the government's effort in curtailing the unnecessary movement of people.
They provide a means by which restaurants can communicate to prospective customers personally through mobile apps without the need to call the establishment.
Once an order is placed by the customer, these services will arrange for the food pickup and delivery to the customer's chosen location.
Some of these services are now introducing “contactless” delivery, whereby the payment is done through cashless transactions and the item is delivered and placed at a convenient spot without both parties having to interact with each other.
This fulfils the social distancing aspect of a lockdown, and this is safer for both parties, in a sense.
In other cases, restaurants allow ordering remotely, whether online or via their app, and then the customer can choose “self-pickup” straight from the restaurant's counter or kitchen, bypassing the queue.
This can help businesses stay afloat during a lockdown that restricts customers to takeaway food only.
This alternative can be useful for a business that doesn't have the space or money to have a drive-thru like those found in more famous fast food restaurant chains.
The acceptance of using food delivery and self-pickup services are bound to increase as time goes by, and many will convert to become permanent customers.
When volume of orders goes up, so will delivery charges go down, and that will fuel this industry for years to come. In future, restaurants might have to seriously think about incorporating delivery or self-pickup to their businesses to survive.
2. News and content censoring tools
During times of crisis, misinformation and gossip can incite panic and irrational behaviour.
Official messages and information from actual authorities might even be mistaken as fake and untrustworthy if measures are not taken to reduce the spread of malicious content.
Online new sites, social media, and messaging platforms are becoming main sources of news related to Covid-19.
To this end, huge corporations that own nearly all of the social media and messaging services in the world are pledging their support. YouTube is employing AI to recognise and tag videos related to Covid-19 with an additional link to WHO's website.
Videos not meeting guidelines are being demonetised or removed, to ensure that the platform is not used to publish sensationalised or misleading news on Covid-19.
Facebook and its Messenger app is being used by governments to send health alerts and news to counter rumours. WhatsApp, also owned by Facebook, is partnering with WHO to create a Coronavirus Information Hub, detailing ways you could use its app to stay connected remotely and get verified information related to Covid-19.
They also created a WHO alert group within WhatsApp that answers queries related to Covid-19.
Twitter, on the other hand, is helping experts on Covid-19 get verified account status to ensure its users are able to recognise duplicate or shadow accounts made with ill intent. It is also banning tweets that contain instructions that can cause physical harm or spread the disease.
All these tools are helpful in managing the flow of information to the public, reducing unwanted noise and allowing governments to communicate to their citizens.
However, care must be exercised to ensure that the tools are not used by authoritarian governments to censor dissent and opposition.
3. Content on demand
Cinemas and video rental shops are non-essential businesses affected by the lockdown. This is where video on demand and streaming services can help provide entertainment straight to the consumer's doorstep.
Services like Netflix and Hulu have become popular over the years, and now, even more services are entering the market.
One such contender, Disney+, is offering exclusive content on their platform to lure people to subscribe, which can be done online without leaving the comforts of one's home, ideal in a lockdown situation.
They are also differentiating themselves from the competition by releasing movies straight to their platform, bypassing theatrical releases.
For those in search for more interactive entertainment, video games have been transitioning from physical media to electronic since the start of the decade. Platforms such as Steam and EPIC Games Store are easy to use and offer frequent discounts to entice customers, new and old.
Cloud gaming services have become a hit, with tech heavy-weights such as Google and Nvidia stepping into the arena. Customers do not need to invest in gaming hardware to play, just good internet access to stream games via the cloud.
Schools and other institutions of learning are also adapting to the lockdown by providing online classes through software such as Zoom. Students will not be required to attend classes in person, but instead log onto the video conferencing platform. Materials can be shared online and then stored in the cloud to be accessed anywhere, anytime.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a horrible event, costing thousands of lives, but tech has proven that there are still ways to maintain a semblance of normal life in the midst of a lockdown.
How societies move forward from this point will depend on how they adjust to the ever-changing situations around them.