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Privacy Preserving Pandemic Exposure Analysis: How it works?

May 19, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse effect on our economy and society alike. A large number of economic indicators imply that the outbreak is creating a negative impact on global economic growth on a scale that has not been experienced since the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. Evidently, the pandemic is taking a toll on international economic and trade activities. The global trade and GDP are predicted to take a sharp dip through the first half of 2020. As a result, many industries are being affected. This crisis could particularly affect the economies of developing countries that have limited financial resources. According to the OECD’s latest report:

  • The greatest impact of the containment restrictions will be on retail and wholesale trade, and in professional and real estate services, although there are significant differences depending on the country.
  • Business closures could reduce economic output in advanced and major emerging economies by 15% or more; other emerging economies could experience a decline in output of 25%.
  • Countries dependent on tourism could be affected more severely, while countries with large agricultural and mining sectors could experience less severe effects.
  • Economic effects likely will vary across countries reflecting differences in the timing and degree of containment measures.
  • Steps that have been taken by governments all around the world to encourage social distancing has upended the lives of many. Lockdowns have been imposed in many countries and people aren’t being allowed to get out of their homes due to fear of spreading the infection further.

    How does the virus spread?

    The most commonly known method of transmission for the virus is through airborne droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. If a healthy person comes in close contact with an infected person (less than 1 meter), they are at high risk of contracting the infection. This is the human to human method of transmission. Surface transmission is another way of getting infected with the disease. The surfaces that were in contact with the infected individuals may carry the active virus for a long time. The virus has a longevity of 2 to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces, 4 hrs on copper, and up to 24 hrs on cardboard surfaces. The virus is known to persist for up to 9 days on non-porous surfaces. To stop it, one can clean and disinfect all counters, knobs, and other surfaces. Kampf et al, 2020; However, healthcare settings are also vulnerable to the introduction and spread of SARS-CoV-2, and the stability of SARS-CoV-2 in aerosols and on surfaces likely contributes to the transmission of the virus in healthcare settings

    How do we control the spread?

    Many health authorities are following contact tracing methods to curb the spread of infection. This involves identifying primary and secondary contacts that have come in close proximity to an infected person. The person who has tested positive for the virus is interviewed, and based on this, health authorities reach out to the people who are at risk of catching the virus. This method can be inaccurate and unreliable as the infected person may have come in contact with people they don’t know personally. In such cases, these contacts will be neglected. In order to combat this problem, many governments have introduced apps that encourage automated contact tracing. These applications track the location of its users to identify the direction of the infection spread. Notifications are sent to the users in case they come in contact with an infected person. Health authorities will have access to route maps so that they can automatically identify the places and people that are at risk of infection. However, contact tracing takes into account only one method of transmission- human to human. It completely neglects the transmission of viruses from surfaces. For example, if an infected person touches a few products in a particular supermarket, each of these products will now be contaminated. The virus will stay on these products for hours, and when a healthy person touches them, they will also get infected.

    The need for exposure analysis

    It is vital that the governments account for both modes of transmission to effectively curb the infection. In order to account for transmission that happens indirectly from contaminated surfaces, we will have to conduct an exposure analysis to identify hotspots where the risk of infection is higher. RebuildTheChain (RTC), the pandemic management system developed by Accubits automatically performs exposure analysis to account for the human to the surface to human transmission. The platform creates dynamic micro hotspots and users are alerted when they near any of these areas. It also sends notifications to infrastructure owners when they need to disinfect a particular area. This enables users to stay away from contaminated spaces and lowers the risk of infection to a large extent.

    How it works?

    The mobile application of a user periodically saves their location coordinates in the phone as an array "semantic location", the mobile phone also has a list of polygons and Buckets pre-loaded in the application using R-tree we find if the point is inside of which polygon and then find buckets associated to the point. This bucket is then sent to the server and a list of polygons of hotspots are sent back which is close to the identified bucket. This list is saved into the application and till the bucket changes the coordinate of the user is checked across this received list of the polygons to notify if the person is inside a hotspot or not in the mobile application. RTC uses a privacy-preserving exposure analysis using user location data from GPS. Through this approach, the user's GPS data is not transmitted to the server-side. Instead, the user application pulls the batches of hot zone information from the server to perform a decentralized exposure analysis. Would you like to know more about the solution, reach out to us today.

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