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How Hong Kong used homegrown tech to fight COVID-19

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How Hong Kong used homegrown tech to fight COVID-19
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When the COVID-19 struck, Hong Kong acted quickly, and successfully, to control the outbreak early on. And it did this with a mixture of strong health and safety measures, along with a lot of homegrown technology.

The first port of call was Hong Kong International Airport, which mobilised people - and robots - to stop that virus dead in its tracks.

Being the territory’s main connection to the world, the airport was key to keeping COVID-19 out. They had to move fast.

Steven Yiu, Deputy Director of Service Delivery, of Hong Kong Airport Authority, said: "It was a challenge in terms of the manpower and the resources, but we were well-prepared. I think people still remember back to 2003, the SARS."

After lessons learned from the SARS epidemic, the airport took a range of measures, starting with temperature checks.

"Before passengers entered the terminal, we had temperature screening. So, if they were below 37.5C, we allowed them inside. When we are back to normal, we may keep some of the measures, for example the exit temperature check. It probably will become a permanent feature within the airport," Yiu added.

For airport staff, there's a disinfection pod, developed in Hong Kong, that starts with a temperature check and uses a sanitising spray for 40 seconds.

In addition to this, the airport used a squad of cleaning robots, also developed in the territory, that disinfects hallways, floors and toilets.

Before other governments jumped into action, Hong Kong acted with border controls, testing and quarantines. The result: About 1100 people infected, with fewer than 10 fatalities as of mid-July, in a city of 7.5 million people.

The new technologies at the airport are just a few examples of how, as a regional centre for R&D, Hong Kong´s tech and biotech firms worked with academia to fight the pandemic. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University worked on face shields using 3D printers.

Professor Hau-chung Man, Dean of Engineering at the university, who heads the team, said immediate customer feedback helped them to modify their design. "There's no way 3D printing can provide the number you want. 3D printing can only produce one of these in 90 minutes - that's one in an hour and a half.

"We used our own machines, our 3D printing machines in our own university, to produce the design and get the product made within seven days. We then passed this on to industry and they were able to produce it within two weeks. So the whole problem was solved within a month," Hau-chung added.

Professor Alex Wai, Deputy President and Provost at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, says they were ready and waiting after the last virus that struck.

"We had Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and we have colleagues both in our university and the University of Hong Kong, who knew that something like this could happen again.

"We actually have a trust fund, made up of donations from different companies. It is in place specifically for such a situation - another outbreak, or a pandemic."

Another fast-track anti-COVID-19 project was at Science Park, home to hundreds of technology companies and thousands of staff, including ImmunoDiagnostics.

Dr Kelsey Zhongling, Deputy Executive Director, ImmunoDiagnostics says her company worked night and day to get their project ready.

"We officially started the work in early February, and in two weeks we already generated three successful diagnostic kits for this disease.

One of them is called Elisa, which allows over 90 tests per kit, within 2 hours and 30 minutes, so it's very useful in population-based screening. And the second is a Point-of-Care blood test.

This needs just one drop of blood and will show the results within 10 minutes without any equipment.

This is technology that is helping to save lives in Hong Kong, and exported around the world.