Role of technology and innovation in tackling second wave of coronavirus

The onset of coronavirus in 2020 accelerated digitisation and redefined the way we live and work.

By Raj Kumar,

While 2021 began on a positive note with a quick rebound of the Indian economy, the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic derailed the progress while resulting in massive loss of human lives. A daily average of over three lakh cases across the country led to a tremendous shortage of beds and oxygen, thereby putting the healthcare facilities under severe strain. The magnitude of the crisis prompted relevant stakeholders in the technology and infrastructure ecosystem to collaborate and tackle the situation by finding hacks to solve problems using limited resources.

The onset of coronavirus in 2020 accelerated digitisation and redefined the way we live and work. The lockdown led to a suspension in the brick and mortar model of education and heralded a shift towards online learning. The work from home model became a norm as more companies warmed up to the notion of flexible working. In-person meetings at workplaces were replaced by video-conferencing over MS Team/Zoom/Skype, and shopping became revolutionised using AI, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Face-to-face consultations gave way to teleconsultations in healthcare. Several premier academic institutions and startups came to the forefront by developing innovative devices and technologies to combat the transmission risk of coronavirus while digitising the existing facilities.

However, the second wave of coronavirus was more lethal and prompted the business ecosystem to respond with several path-breaking initiatives to combat the hardships of coronavirus patients. In a heartening endeavour, real estate firms and Resident Welfare Associations at condominiums took the lead in establishing Covid-19 isolation wards in collaboration with hospitals. With the existing healthcare facilities coming under pressure, startups spearheaded innovation by developing products, such as low-cost portable ventilators, special anti-microbial coatings, UV sterilisation systems, drones to monitor social distancing norms, etc. Covid-19 also provided a fillip to crowdsourcing initiatives that marked a collaborative effort to tackle the crisis. Several industry bodies also took the lead in organising virtual hackathons to develop innovative solutions to address several challenges resulting from Covid-19.

The government initiatives provided an enabling framework to catalyse innovation amid these unprecedented times. For instance, the Department of Science and Technology, under its initiative, NIDHI4COVID2.0, called on startups to develop technologies in sphered of oxygen innovation, portable solution, relevant medical accessories, diagnostic, informatics to tackle various challenges faced resulting from the second wave of Covid-19. Bihar became the first state to devise its Oxygen Production Policy amid Covid-19. The policy entitles entrepreneur to a 30 per cent capital subsidy for establishing oxygen manufacturing facilities, with the maximum assistance of up to Rs 25 crore for cryogenic oxygen plants. According to the policy, oxygen cylinder manufacturers will be entitled to financial aid up to Rs 75 crore. Many entities also partnered with the state governments to facilitate access to accurate factual information about coronavirus and eliminated fake news on social media platforms.

It is noteworthy that the innovation did not remain confined to product development alone; the second wave of coronavirus spurred restructuring of existing B2B and supply chain models to enable healthcare institutions to respond swiftly to the threat to human lives.

The shortage of oxygen during Covid-19 is a formidable challenge that put several human lives at risk. It becomes imperative to gauge the on-ground oxygen supply situation and ensure a smooth and efficient supply of oxygen with a fast turnaround time, thus saving human lives. To ensure a smooth and efficient supply of oxygen across various states, the Central Government has deployed ‘Oxygen Express’ trains for various state capitals. However, this solves only a part of the problem as a major bottleneck is the real-time monitoring and seamless coordination between logistics and operations to ensure that oxygen reaches hospitals without any delay. Black marketing and hoarding of oxygen and essential medical supplies is also a challenge that exacerbated the problem of oxygen supply.

To overcome these challenges, hub and spoke model was deployed through multi-modal transport integration. Under this model, five hubs have been established in Uttar Pradesh to ensure route optimisation by air, rail and road transport. The five hubs connect five to six nearby cities/districts and villages, while the hospitals in these respective cities/districts and towns function as spokes. Once the oxygen supply reaches key cities, aircrafts carry the oxygen to the respective hubs that are further transported to the needy hospitals through oxygen tankers. It is a flexible model as it allows the creation of additional hubs with a minimum turnaround time of 8 to 10 hours to meet the sudden spike in oxygen demand. This model has reduced turnaround time in oxygen supply by prioritising delivery through accurate demand and supply data analysis. By leveraging state-of-the-art technology and harnessing the power of collaboration, this model has set a benchmark in excellence to be replicated across the country.

Covid-19 may have sparked off innovation; the key is to sustain this entrepreneurial mindset to address global challenges collaboratively and innovatively in the long run. It will aid the swift revival of the Indian economy and be a way forward to achieve the dream of a 5 trillion dollar economy by 2025.

(The author is CMD, Rodic Consultants Pvt. Ltd. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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