More from UNDESA Vol 24, No. 11 - November 2020

Countries step up innovation efforts, using over 500 digital apps to fight COVID-19

From chatbots in Singapore to drones in Oman; from robotic medical assistants in Indonesia to virtual doctors in Brazil; while the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc across the world, governments have been working hard to implement digital solutions to minimize the adverse impact of the virus and to ensure business continuity.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, digital technologies have enabled governments to connect with people and to continue to deliver services online,” said UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin. “In many countries digital government has stepped up its central role as a necessary element of communication, leadership and collaboration between policy makers and society,” he said.

In a quick call for inputs by UN DESA, government officials from around the world, shared more than 500 COVID-19 related digital applications that they have been using during the pandemic. These can now be found in the “Compendium of Digital Government Initiatives in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic,” launched on 6 October 2020 by UN DESA.

In the compendium, readers will learn how governments have been using campaigns and chatbots to provide reliable information about the virus and to combat fake news, disinformation and viral hoaxes.

Due to the lack of medical personnel and capacity in hospitals, health apps have provided people with tools to self-assess their health status and for doctors to remotely monitor the wellbeing of their patients. In Croatia, the digital assistant “Andrija” used artificial intelligence to process thousands of health requests via a government portal and social media.

Digital technologies have also been used for contact tracing, allowing both health authorities and people to be informed about cases and trace down contacts of infected people to test for the virus. To promote social distancing, some governments used robots, drones, self-help temperature scanners, and contactless infrared thermometers.

Qatar deployed security robots to perform patrols in both residential and public areas to educate people on the importance of preventing gatherings and limit the spread of the virus. In Singapore, an artificial powered thermal scanner SPOTON was developed to set up mass temperature screening systems. Kuwait Health Ministry has been using an app named “Shlonik” to follow up on the repatriated citizens from abroad who are in mandatory home quarantine. A mobile application served as a travelling permission platform for Malaysians wishing to travel across states during the curfew.

Peoples’ expectations of governments have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic and they will likely remain high in the post-pandemic era. As policy makers respond and use digital technologies to achieve their development goals, they should not forget addressing heightened concerns over data protection, privacy, misinformation and disinformation.

For more information:

Compendium of Digital Government Initiatives in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic”

SDG 2 in numbers

Eradicating hunger and achieving food security remains a challenge, more so in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. At the global level, hunger and food insecurity have been on the rise, and malnutrition still affects millions of children.

The situation is likely to get worse owing to economic slowdowns and disruptions caused by a pandemic-triggered recession. In addition to COVID-19, the desert locust upsurge in six Eastern African countries and Yemen – where 35 million people are already experiencing acute food insecurity – remains alarming.

To mitigate the threats posed by the pandemic to vulnerable populations, countries need to take immediate action to keep trade flowing, to strengthen food supply chains and to increase agricultural production.

Access more data and information on the indicators for SDG 2 in the SDG Progress Report 2020.




Will European Central Bank’s unconventional policies cause hyperinflation?

Monetary policy has ventured even further into uncharted territory over the past years. Gone are the times when changes in interest rates were the sole policy variable that drew the attention of the public and financial markets. Today, central bank policy pronouncements are as much or even more about unconventional policy tools—such as asset purchase programmes—than they are about interest rates.

The European Central Bank (ECB) is no exception. Over the past years, it has purchased ever increasing amounts of bonds, prompting warnings of drastically high inflation. Some critics believe that a flood of money entering the market is chasing far too few goods. This is reinforced by the run-up in the price of various assets, such as real estate and equities. As a consequence, even the spectre of looming hyperinflation is making the rounds among observers.

However, a closer look at the mechanics of monetary policy of the ECB reveals a somewhat unexpected picture. There has been a sharp increase in the monetary base, but this stemmed mainly from the interactions between commercial banks and the ECB as the central bank. On a broader scale, the supply of money has been growing much more slowly and is largely within the range needed to maintain price stability and avoid runaway inflation.

This will be reassuring to those fearing higher inflation from unconventional policies by the ECB. At the same time, it illustrates the very policy challenge at hand: the persistent inability of policymakers to reach their inflation target, to the point where deflation – that is falling prices – is the more imminent and serious challenge.

In addition, the behaviour of monetary aggregates indicates that while the ECB’s asset purchases have so far not created inflation pressure, fragile balance sheets of the banking sector might require more forceful policy responses in the future.

Read the November Monthly Briefing for more details.

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