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File photo (Bloomberg)
File photo (Bloomberg)

Covid-19: How Kerala is using tech to prepare for worst-case scenario

  • An army of hundred-odd coders, data analysts, software experts, doctors, para-medics, government officers and others are building a tech node to help understand the situation better and plan for the future

ERNAKULAM: As Kerala deals with the coronavirus pandemic and a sharp increase in the number of people testing positive on a daily basis, the state has started preparing for the worst-case scenario.

An army of hundred-odd coders, data analysts, software experts, doctors, para-medics, government officers and others are building a tech node to help understand the situation better and plan for the future, two people familiar with the matter told Mint.

They seek answers to the kind of numbers the region can expect both in terms of infection and deaths, how the current protection system such as ventilators and ambulances might perform, and what defence mechanism could be needed in the future— all with the use of data and technology.

The open-source project called ‘Corona Safe Network’, not yet publicly announced, is designed to give chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan a dashboard of more than 20 web applications that can link hospitals, temporary isolation points called ‘Corona Care Centers’, medical resources, volunteers, others. The project will be piloted in Kerala’s commercial hub Ernakulam district on Tuesday.

Some of the web applications will be public, like live information about hospital bed capacity utilisation, corona care centers capacity utilisation, inventory and volunteer management, number of patients, food-delivery management and ambulance network. But to avoid panic, some others, though, will not— like case and death projections.

“I’ve not even told my wife," said a person associated with the project, requesting not to be named, when asked about the death projection numbers.

“We are hoping we’ll never have to use these applications. But in a worst-case-scenario, we want a set of applications from load balancing government systems to manage emergency services like ambulances or setting up isolation rooms on a big scale. Right now, the data and the protocol to build them are scattered across the system. We are trying to get it in one place and operate it on a big scale," the person said.

“There will be web applications to monitor hospitals beds, ventilator facilities, ambulances, blood banks. Fundamentally, it is about assets management to ensure optimal utilisation of resources. Within a week, we are expecting the architecture to fully evolve," the person said.

With 165 Covid-19 patients, Kerala is already one of the highly infected states in the country. Its superior health care model with over 30,000 hospital beds, recognised globally, is currently the frontline defense against the virus.

Starting this weekend, the state has also opened a war room inside its administrative headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram, like it was during the floods, with the attendance of at least one top officer from all major departments to coordinate the response against the pandemic.

But, a densely populated Kerala may have to take it to the next level using technology if there is an overwhelming rise in numbers, said the person quoted above.

“If a person has a problem and needs an ambulance, there will be a way to pass on that information to a central war room in Trivandrum. When we go into a total lockdown of everything after a surge in numbers, this will be only possible digitally because the human interface will be minimised," the person said.

“At that point, even a call center will be having people distributed across remote locations and taking calls. When they get a notification for an ambulance, they can inform the central war room and send an ambulance to the location," the person added.

“This is what you can call a practo-initiative with government support. This is actually a civil society response, but the civil society consists of people in the IT business," said Usha Titus, principal secretary of higher education in the state and one of the main officers liaising with the technology team. Practo is short for online practise of doctors.

“What is being prepared are a set of frameworks in case there is a surge of patients. The plan is to have not just information for the people, but to set up corona-care facilities for frontline of healthcare, templates that lay down the resources that are required for us, manpower requirements, and then for the quarantine centers also several departments have come out with protocols," she said.

“The idea is to pilot it and thereafter it should be easy to execute. There is a whole lot of information flow that is happening and there is a whole lot of frameworks being developed," she added.

The tech team behind the project is helmed by Sanjay Vijayakumar, former CEO of Kerala’s state-run startup incubator called Startup Village. Mint could not get an immediate comment from Vijayakumar.

This is apart from another set of applications developed by the Kerala Startup Mission, the state’s apex body for startup promotion. “We have developed an app for official info on the virus spread, to curb fake news, called GoK-Kerala, using the startup QKopy's platform. We are also prototyping N95 masks for mass production from our fab labs, crowdsourcing solutions for other technical problems and building a Covid tracker data app," said Saji Gopinath, chief executive officer of Kerala Startup Mission.

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