Of all the uncertainties brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic, there is one thing we can be clear on. Technology will play a big part in saving us. It cannot bring back those we have tragically lost, but it can help aid the recovery of those who contracted the virus. Technology will also play a large role in rebooting the UK's economy once the virus has abated.
Of course, the UK alone does not have all the tech talent it needs to meet the challenges and opportunities that will stem from Covid-19, now and for years to come. Therefore, the need to bring people from overseas into the UK who can create and deliver the technology we need has now hit a critical level. And the Global Talent Visa is one route to obtaining the skills the country needs to remain a financial, cultural, and scientific world leader following Covid-19 and Brexit.
The number one area in which the country needs talent is within the health-tech sector.
The health tech sector is the second biggest subset of the technology market, after fintech. During the pandemic, health tech businesses have worked tirelessly to support frontline healthcare staff by loaning vital equipment and resources; providing online patient care; and gathering and analyzing data. But the technology which is set to provide the greatest impact, and help Britain recover financially is the track and trace technology which Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has promised will be launched in June 2020.
Contact tracing is not new. It has been used to prevent the spread of many contagions, including HIV. The process involves a person who has been infected recounting their movements to establish who they may have passed the virus onto.
Contact tracing is imperative to being able to open up a country during the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus is extremely infectious, with an incubation period of up to 14 days. Furthermore, some people never develop symptoms, meaning they can infect others without ever being aware they had the virus.
Contact tracing apps allow a phone to retrace a person's steps and work out who that person came into contact with over the time they were infected. Countries that have succeeded in controlling the Coronavirus outbreak, including Singapore and South Korea, concentrated on testing and contact tracing early on. According to Wired Magazine, the app will work as follows:
Bluetooth technology within phones, which has to be turned on at all times, broadcasts an identifier that is unique to that device. The identifier is essentially a random string of numbers that updates on a regular basis and doesn't include any personal information. When your phone is near another Bluetooth device the two will exchange their identifiers. A list of all the devices, in the form of their unique codes, is stored on your phone for 28 days. Nothing else happens unless a user indicates that they are experiencing coronavirus symptoms.
There is very limited functionality within the app. The only thing that users can do is report if they have Covid-19 symptoms. Within the app, there is one central question: how are you feeling today? If you feel unwell you tap on the prompt and are asked whether you have a high temperature and a persistent cough. (Both are defined within the app). You are also asked to select which date the symptoms started.
Having both of these symptoms indicates a person may have coronavirus and this information can then be sent to the NHS. Users will then see a link that tells them to follow health advice - such as self-isolating - and potential details for testing. When a user submits, they have symptoms, the health service's technology will determine whether the people they have been nearby needing to be notified. This is done with a risk algorithm and not everyone will instantly be notified.
The UK has decided to build its own tracing app, making it an outlier as most other countries have drawn on the expertise of tech giants such as Google and Apple to build their apps. But regardless of who is creating the technology, Coronavirus is going to be with us for a long time. Therefore, the need to refine track and trace apps will provide almost endless opportunities for leaders in the health-tech field.
Technology can wage war on Covid-19 outside of testing, tracking, and tracing. Digital doctor app Babylon Health has reported that it is searching for ways to train its AI chatbot to identify Coronavirus symptoms quickly. Pushdoctor, Doctify, and other virtual clinics can relieve pressure on the NHS by providing video-link doctor's appointments. Add to that Echo, the platform that allows prescriptions to be delivered directly to patients' doors, meaning they do not have to visit a pharmacy or GP. When the UK lockdown was announced in mid-March, Echo's creators saw its users grow to over 150,000 in a matter of weeks.
Co-founder and chief strategy officer Stephen Bourke told the Evening Standard:
C-Day for us was when Matt Hancock announced everyone over the age of 70 would be told to self-isolate. Then on the 16th, the advice was against non-essential travel. The impact was all of Echo's existing users, about 106,000 patients, all ordered at once.
The UK health-tech sector's brilliance reaches well beyond the current pandemic. Virtual reality is being explored, aimed at helping surgeons to perform more effective amputations; thereby reducing the rehabilitation needed in recovery. And Ultromics, a UK-based health technology spin-out company from the University of Oxford is developing the world's first medical device that can predict coronary artery disease, humanity number-one killer.
During 2019 the health-tech sector received $2.3bn in venture capital backing, almost double that of France, the next highest recipient. The industry has a turnover of £24 billion and employs over 127,400 people across 3,860 organisations.
If you are a leader in the health-tech field and have plans for the UK sector, gaining Tech Nation endorsement and a Global Talent Visa allows you to live and work in the UK so you can put your strategy in place.
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