Lessons and Predictions from the Coronavirus Crisis in China: Webinar Notes
COVID-19 and China
Coronavirus patients may have ‘ground-glass’ opacities on CT scans of their lungs which was analyzed by some Chinese artificial intelligence startups. Image: Courtesy of LinkingMed

As of March 20, the number of total confirmed cases in China was smaller than that of cases outside its borders for the first time since the outbreak began. Chinese drugmakers, big-data-driven health tech firms, and the country's frontline hospitals have already built up a wealth of know-how on how to tackle the deadly coronavirus. 

China was the first country where the virus claimed masses of lives, and it was the first where it was defeated.

To learn more about China's experience with the outbreak, EqualOcean has held a special video conference with genetic research scientist Monica Sleumer, Medical AI entrepreneur Ryan Hua Zhang and clinical doctor Ruby Wang, in a discussion moderated by EqualOcean analyst Yusuf Tuna

(Consult this article to learn about the guests’ background)

(Watch it on Youtube)

Notes from the webinar

From epidemic top pandemic. How did it happen? 

"The virus has a relatively long incubation period, and symptoms are mild," said Dr. Ruby Wang. "Which spreads the virus amongst the masses while most of them are unaware of it," she added. She also elaborated on the new coronavirus's relatively high transmission rates and the fact that the world doesn't have treatment or preventive measures, unlike the case of bacterial infections.

"The only treatment measures we have are the supportive measures," the clinical doctor added. "That's is the reason why we see higher mortality rates in the countries where the healthcare system is relatively weaker," doctor said.

"15 - 20 % of the patients who were infected with coronavirus developed severe pneumonia, and many of those required hospitalization for weeks, which can overwhelm the healthcare system very quickly." Monica Sleumer said. "It is critical now for every country to get the epidemic under control before too many people need intensive healthcare," said the genetic scientist.

Some notable measures from China's experience with the epidemic from the private and public organizations

"The Chinese government quickly and effectively implemented very aggressive measures, from extended holidays to city and province-wide quarantines,' said Dr. Ruby. "Chinese tech giants like ByteDance and Alibaba have quickly provided comprehensive digital products, letting citizens adopt a new lifestyle – that is, working and socializing from home," she added, emphasizing the unique ecosystem and capabilities of the Chinese tech companies.

"I was worried after I sent my employees to the frontline hospitals in Wuhan in January," Ryan Hua Zhang said. "There was a huge demand in those hospitals at that time and there was a need for online diagnosis and consultation so we developed a mechanism to connect remote radiologists to help with the diagnosis in the overwhelmed hospitals," explained the founder.

"As we collected more data we improved our algorithms, but it was nearly impossible as a startup to have enough computation power to develop a deep-learning driven diagnosis for the new coronavirus, so we cooperated with Baidu," said LinkingMed founder. "Baidu immediately arranged over 35 algorithm experts from their side, only for this particular Covid-19 detection project," said Zhang.

He focused on the importance of being united as a nation and collaborating across industries and sciences in a move to fight with the deadly epidemic.

Monica Sleumer has focused on the long term benefits of the "low-tech" solutions used by the Chinese companies during the epidemic. "There may be a serious decrease in the other types of communicable diseases in the long term thanks to the new hygiene standards that were implemented during the epidemic," said the senior researcher. "If we continue to use alcohol sprays and sanitizers in public places we'll all going to be healthier," explained the Novo Nordisk researcher.

About the gaps in our current system and some needs that might be filled by innovative companies

"It is hard to foresee what will be shaping the industry in the long term, but definitely in the near term we'll see the proliferation of medical imaging analysis and online care-related businesses," explained Dr. Ruby.

Ryan Hua Zhang explained how telemedicine and artificial intelligence will transform the industry in the near future and touched upon the data labeling process. "We're going to see very strategic and centralized medical information databases to monitor the spread of the outbreak," predicted the entrepreneur.

“Online diagnosis and telemedicine can become very very powerful.  We've seen that China has been an early adopter of many other online platforms, such as ride hailing, bike sharing, mobile payments and so on... I definitely anticipate that China may directly leapfrog to telemedicine and online forms of healthcare, as they're relatively weak in traditional healthcare services," said Sleumer.

On the companies that will change the game after the Covid-19

"I would expect a massive value-added from the tech companies who can centralize and analyze medical data, and finally connect the dots. That company will change the game,"  said the artificial intelligence entrepreneur Zhang. Monica Sleumer addressed the moderator's question regarding vaccine development and said that it is more or less impossible to predict which pharmaceutical company will produce the vaccine based on the information that was provided to the public so far. “There are so many clinical trials going on right now, but I haven't heard any actual results from any of them yet, it's all up in the air right now." she said.

"It could be an antiviral, synthetic antibody or a vaccine, any of these would be a breakthrough for this crisis and reduce the complication rate, transmission rate or mortality rate. Yet it is s too early to say something viable," said the genetic scientist.

Near-future projections and thoughts

Monica focused on the unhealthy information flows the world has been getting from the emerging world regarding the pandemic and data, she expressed that she sees this issue as the main challenge for humanity in the near future. She approached the moderator's question on whether the epidemic is a seasonal one,  saying "It would be a very bad assumption to think so," and gave Australia and Singapore as examples.

"Hopefully we'll see a jump in the contribution of healthcare services to GDP in China, where it is relatively weaker compared to high income counties – which will have positive long terms effects on China's public health," the UK clinical doctor and former Alibaba advisor Ruby Wang expressed.

Dr. Ruby sees understanding a person's very particular environment and health conditions as the most important prerequisite to building an effective strategy preventing the patient from the pervasive virus. "Overall, early social distancing is key," the doctor says.

WIM Salon X Beijing is a technology and innovation event organized by EqualOcean. We invite outstanding representatives with sophisticated tech and industrial backgrounds, as well as investment organizations, to explore cutting-edge technologies. We are aligned with EqualOcean’s WIM conference which gathers 6,000 innovators (entrepreneurs, investors, influencers) from all around the world.

This webinar was part of a series of events. In the next event, we are going to discuss China's new retail scene with the webinar title "The Unstoppable Live Commerce (Live streaming E-commerce) Trend in China  2020" on April 12 under the moderation of EqualOcean analyst Butao Wang.

Company executives, corporate leaders and start-up representatives who are interested in learning more about China's new consumer market are invited to join the Salon.

Editor: Luke Sheehan
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