Chinese government has been piloting ways to incorporate drones into their response to Coronavirus over past few months. These initial experiments may serve as a model for other countries looking to respond to the current health crisis. Longer-term, they can provide lessons for how public and private health systems can incorporate drone technology into their planning to mitigate future pandemics.

Here are four areas where drones have been a key tool in responding to COVID-19:

Identification COVID-19 Affected people

Those not wearing masks in public spaces could be identified by SY 1200 drone. These flying robots are also used to broadcast information to a larger area than traditional loudspeakers can. Through thermal sensing, drones are also helping officials with crowd management and to identify people with elevated body temperatures, which could indicate they have the virus.

Disinfection & Aerial spray by P10 or P15 spraying drone.

Another way drones are used to fight coronavirus is to spray disinfectant in public spaces.  Drones originally designed to spray pesticides for agricultural applications were adapted in China to spray disinfecting chemicals in some public spaces and on epidemic prevention vehicles traveling between impacted areas. (Coronavirus is mainly transmitted via respiratory droplets and can also spread by touching contaminated surfaces. The disinfectant spray helps reduce these transmission mechanisms.)

Depending on the application, drone spray can be fifty times more efficient than people spraying. Compared with hand spray, drone spray has many advantages in terms of efficiency, consistency.

Medical samples Transport

By using drones speeds up transport by 50% compared to road transportation. In addition to speed, it doesn’t expose human delivery drivers to any risks.

Transporting medical samples by the drone can pointedly reduce unnecessary human contact throughout the transport cycle. It can also speed feedback for critical tests needed by patients and medical workers.

Testing drone delivery for medical samples began last month, at a time when the virus had already killed 600 people in the country and infected 28,000. Early last February, a drone loaded with medical testing supplies took off from the People’s Hospital of Xinchang County, Zhejiang Province and flew to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention located 3 km away. As a result, a journey that would have taken 20 minutes by ground transport took only 6, cutting delivery time by more than half.

“At the moment of life and death, the air transport network can significantly confine the flow of people, avoid unnecessary physical contact and prevent secondary transmission,” said Lv Yinxiang, Secretary of the Party Committee of the County People’s Hospital. “Medical samples delivered through the air can shrink the delivery time…while saving precious field resources.”

Customer drone delivery

Drone delivery of consumer items can ensure that people have access to food and other goods – and make it easier for citizens to keep to recommendations limiting human contact.

Consumer delivery was challenging in parts of China even before the virus thanks to difficult landscapes – like Anxin’s series of semi-isolated islands. In that village, routine grocery deliveries typically required three modes of transport. Goods were shipped to the main pier, ferried to each island, and then distributed by foot. When counter-virus measures suspended the ferry service, driving along the peninsula’s rugged and narrow road could take more than 2 hours in a single trip to cover 100 km.

The civil aviation authority is working with industry, health officials and security services to put these policies into place. The CAAC unmanned aerial system office leadership stated, “Drones are playing key roles in managing the COVID-19 outbreak… It proves that lessons learned from real-world practices are critical for developing a sound regulatory framework whereby the potential of drone technology can be realized.”

As the world continues to tackle this crisis, these lessons can reshape how we protect and care for people during health emergencies.

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