Economic Update

Published 22 Apr 2020

As part of Qatar’s efforts to halt the spread of Covid-19, the authorities have been harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and other digital solutions.

Qatar recorded its first case of the virus on February 29, which involved a citizen who had been evacuated from Iran.

On March 9 the country announced the closure of educational institutions until further notice, while on the same day it announced a travel ban on 15 countries including China, Iran, Italy and Egypt.

Strict social-distancing measures have since been implemented and all non-essential businesses have been closed, while the government is urging all citizens and residents to stay at home.

Furthermore, on March 17 the government imposed a lockdown of Doha’s Industrial Area, home to many migrant workers, following an outbreak of cases in the area. Around 6500 workers have since been quarantined, with the government announcing on April 21 that it planned to start lifting the lockdown gradually later this week.

As of April 21 Qatar had 6533 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and nine deaths attributed to the virus, according to the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), out of a global count of 2.55m infections and 177,000 fatalities. 

Smart approach

In addition to these measures, technology is being deployed to limit the social and economic damage of the pandemic.

Central to these efforts is the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), part of Hamad bin Khalifa University. Working with the MoPH and Hamad Medical Corporation, the QCRI has been developing a series of new digital platforms – as well as redirecting existing ones – to prevent the spread of the virus.

Earlier this month, in an effort to reduce pressure on the country’s health system and to minimise transmission, the QCRI launched an online self-assessment application that educates users on the symptoms of Covid-19, and advises when to seek medical help. The app has been made available in 11 languages including Arabic, English, Hindi and Filipino, and has recorded over 500,000 users to date.

Elsewhere, the QCRI’s “fake news” detection platform, known as Tanbih, is being deployed in the fight against virus-related disinformation.

Launched in 2018, the news aggregator platform leverages QCRI’s advanced AI and analytics programmes to uncover news being circulated via social media that is deemed to be false.

“As the world joins forces to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, it is also facing another crucial war: a global infodemic,” Ahmed Elmagarmid, executive director of QCRI, told OBG.

“This infodemic is ranked second on the World Health Organisation’s focus areas, with dangers ranging from promoting fake cures, rumours and conspiracy theories, to disinformation and panic. Therefore, scientists at QCRI have developed technologies and innovations to promote awareness amongst readers and to uncover fake news.”

Another QCRI initiative – the data-processing platform Rayyan – allows health care experts and researchers working against Covid-19 to accumulate and process the huge amount of virus-related information that is emerging daily.

By providing a platform that collects all general research associated with Covid-19, the initiative significantly cuts down the time it takes to conduct further medical research.

Looking forward, in an effort to restrict community transmission of the virus, the government announced on April 9 that it was close to launching a new app called Ehteraz.

Connected to the MoPH’s database, the app will use GPS and Bluetooth technology to help diagnose and track Covid-19 cases, informing users if they come into contact with those who have tested positive.

On filling in their personal details, users will be automatically issued with a QR code that displays their health status according to different colours: red for those who have tested positive for the virus, yellow for people who have been placed in quarantine, grey for those with suspected cases of Covid-19, and green for healthy individuals who do not display symptoms that suggest they carry the virus.