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The Covid technology dividend

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa)

Every cloud has a silver lining.  Or put another way, we are at our most inventive when the chips are down.  The Second World War gave us radar, the nuclear bomb put Teflon on our frying pans and the global financial crisis gave us Uber and Airbnb. 

The Covid-19 crisis has led us to re-evaluate our lives in many ways and the very concept of human interaction is now being questioned as office workers prove truculent about their return to the workplace.  But as well as making us more paranoid, the crisis has also seeded a series of technology innovations in our lives that look like they are here to stay:

1.            Sanitized air – few knew that sanitized air was even a thing, but in the past few years top hotels, casinos and the entirety of the Riyadh metro system have enjoyed air that is purified by having charged ions blast any virus and bacteria molecules in the air. 

The technology is low-cost and well proven; recent tests carried out by Irish company Plasma Air with the Spanish Ministry of Defense Biological Laboratory showed that the use of ionization technology caused a 99 percent reduction of MS2 Bacteriophage, a surrogate for SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19), in indoor environments.  This means that the air in our buildings could be regularly scrubbed free of the Covid-19 virus through ionization.

Now this technology is being rolled out across hospitals, schools and offices to protect the general population and manufacturers report that sales are 12 times what they were pre-Covid.

2.            Health monitoring – the idea of tracking our health fundamentals was the preserve of gym bunnies before the crisis.  The outbreak of Covid-19 and its clear correlation with obesity has shone a powerful light on the need to measure, monitor and track health as a way of preventing potential health problems. 

The concept of regularly checking your health seems as old as the speak your weight machine, but the idea of the employer taking responsibility for the employees’ health and providing the means to monitor and track vital metrics is a radical new idea.  As a healthcare technology company, Well.Me has already deployed its Wellpoint health measurement machines into the offices and factories of several major employers along with a mobile app where users can track their weight loss and blood pressure reduction.  Forget gym memberships and salads in the canteen, empowering employees with workplace health technology is the next frontier in promoting wellbeing in the office.

Organizations including Siemens, BBC and BMW have already deployed Wellpoints to allow employees to monitor their health and are now extending the Well.Me health tracking to include Covid exposure. Whether to avoid future Covid outbreaks or to reduce obesity across a population, the technologies to manage health will increasingly be deployed on the new frontline for physical wellbeing; our places of work.

3.            Ion the sheets – the effect of metal ions, in particular silver, to kill bacteria and viruses has been long known.  But little exposure and the high cost of weaving silver thread into fabrics has rendered it a niche interest.  Our new-found focus on viral suppression and ubiquitous use of PPE looks likely to turn this niche into a mass market as everyone from hospital garment manufacturers to top fashion brands are looking to get into the anti-viral market.  Manufacturers have also invented new techniques of embedding the metal ions into the fabrics so that they use hardly any silver, eradicating the formerly prohibitive price premium.  They are also robust enough to be washed many times at high temperatures.  And the good news doesn’t stop there - these new fabrics will even stop your socks from smelling. 

4.            Zoom – for many in the technology industry there is nothing new about video conferencing (Skype has been around since 2003), but for the general population the concept has been a revelation during the Covid crisis.  As we come out of the pandemic there is no question that Zoom is here to stay.  The BBC has even published “The Zoom Social Etiquette Guide”.

Digital collaboration is not just for business workers; increasingly we are seeing GPs, who were for a long time highly resistant to the idea of video appointments, now embracing them as a first line of consultation as it saves them and their patients the time, travel and health risks of an in-person appointment.  Dentists too are joining the revolution; Irish company Toothpic is pioneering teledentistry as means of identifying and resolving dental problems. 

5.            Contactless – there was a time, not very long ago, when the majority of people were reluctant to engage in contactless payments as it posed a perceived risk.  No longer.  The greater perceived risk of contracting Covid-19 through touching card readers or handling cash has convinced the Great British public of the benefits of contactless. 

Not only is this popular with users as they no longer need to carry cash and worry about where to find an ATM, but also with retailers, who see it as a secure method of payment that isn’t subject to theft.  Most of all governments love it, as a digital economy is a tax paying economy. 

So not only is this a technology that is here to stay, but the rapidity of its uptake begs the question of whether cash can even survive?  After all, even Big Issue sellers have now been equipped with contactless card readers.

Keith Lewis, Chief Executive Officer, Wellpoint group