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Long Economic Depressions and Disparities Loom in the Wake of the COVID-19
"Global Cooperation for Managing Data Key to Mitigating the Impacts Around the World" <Full recorded video of the GSI-IF2020> The COVID-19 pandemic will lead to long economic depressions around the entire world. Experts predicted that the prevalent inequities among the countries, regions, and individuals will aggravate the economic crisis. However, crises always come with new opportunities and international cooperation and solidarity will help creating a new normal in the post-coronavirus era. In a very basic but urgent step, global cooperation for managing data is the key to respond to COVID-19 since medicine and healthcare are intertwined with data science, said experts during an online international forum hosted by the Global Strategy Institute at KAIST on April 22. KAIST launched its think-tank, the Global Strategy Institute (GSI), in February. The GSI aims to identify global issues proactively and help make breakthroughs well aligned with solid science-based policies. The inaugural forum of the GSI focused on how the COVID-19 pandemic would impact socio-economic, scientific, and political landscapes, under the theme “Global Cooperation in the Coronavirus Era.” In his opening remarks, KAIST President Sung-Chul Shin stressed that future global governance will be dominated by the power of science and technology. “If we can implement efficient policies together with troubleshooting technology for responding to future crises, we will emerge stronger than before,” he said. President Shin said ‘the Korean model’, which is being recognized as a shining example for dealing with the pandemic, is the result of collaborations combining the creativity of the private sector, the public sector’s strong infrastructure, and the full support of the citizens. He added, “Without the technological prowess coming from the competent R&D power of Korea, we could not achieve these impressive results.” “Creative collaboration among the private and public sectors, along with research universities from around the world, will help shore up global resilience against the epidemic. We should work together to build a world of growing prosperity,” President Shin said. Prime Minister Sye-Kyun Chung, who is in charge of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters in Korea, stressed global solidarity in his welcoming remarks, saying that “We need to share information and rely on the strength of our connections, rather than retreating into nationalistic isolation.” Peter Lee, Vice President of the Microsoft Healthcare, pointed out in his welcoming remarks three critical sectors for global cooperation: medicine and healthcare, public health and prevention, and life and the economy. He emphasized the rule of thumb for managing data, saying that data in these fields should be open, standardized, and shared among countries to combat this global pandemic. During a keynote session, Director General of the International Vaccine Institute (IVI) Jerome Kim described the challenges that go along with developing a vaccine. Dr. Kim said that only 7% of vaccine candidates go through the clinical trial stages, and it will take five to 10 years to completely prove a new vaccine’s safety after completing three stages of clinical tests. “It’s very challenging to develop the vaccine for COVID-19 within 12 to 15 months,” said Dr. Kim. He added that 78 out of 115 candidates are currently undergoing clinical trials around the world. There are five groups, including Moderna, Inovio, Jenner Institute, CanSino, and the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, who are doing clinical trials in phases 1 and 2. “Given the fact that COVID-19 is a totally new type of virus, various stakeholders’ participation, such as the National Immunization Technical Advisory Groups, the WHO, and UNICEF, is needed to work together to benefit the entire world,” he pointed out. Professor Edward Yoonjae Choi from the Graduate School of AI at KAIST shared how AI and data sciences are being utilized to interpret the major trends of the epidemic. His group mainly focuses on deep learning to model electronic health records (EHR) for disease predictions. Professor Choi said AI and machine learning would be crucial solutions and collaborative research projects will surely accelerate how quickly we can overcome the pandemic. In addition, Dr. Kijung Shin’s group is interpreting the SIR (Susceptible, Infected, and Recovered) model in Korea to predict the number of infections and when people were infected. However, researchers noticed that they could not see the typical modeling in Korea for predicting the number of infections since the model disregarded the new variable of humans’ efforts to stop the spread the virus. According to research by Professor Steven Whang’s group on social distancing and face mask distribution among vulnerable age groups, people in their 20s, 60s, and 70s followed the social distancing guidelines the most strictly. The research team analyzed the data provided by SK Telecom in the Gangnam district of Seoul. The data provided on people in their 70s, a group that accounted for half of all fatalities, showed that masks were generally well distributed nationwide. Dr. Alexandros Papaspyrids, Tertiary Education Industry Director of the Asia region of Microsoft, said that despite all the disadvantages and problems related to remote education, we shouldn’t expect to return to the days before the COVID-19 any time soon. “We should accept the new normal and explore new opportunities in the new educational environment,” he said. Hongtaek Yong, Deputy Minister at the Office of R&D Policy at the Ministry of Science and ICT presented the Korean government’s disease prevention and response policy and how they tried to mitigate the economic and social impact. He stressed the government’s fast testing, tracing, and openness for successfully flattening the curve, adding that the government used an ICT-based approach in all aspects of their response. From early this year when the first patient was reported, the government aggressively encouraged the biotech industry to develop diagnostic kits and novel therapeutic medications. As a result, five companies were able to produce genetic diagnostic reagents through the emergency approval. More notably, four of them are conducting massive R&D projects sponsored by the government and this is the result of the government’s continuous investment in R&D. Korea is the leader in R&D investment among the OECD countries. According to Yong, the government’s big data project that was launched in 2017 continuously traces the trends of epidemics in Korea. The epidemiological studies based on the paths taken by suspected patients using credit card transaction made the difference in predicting the spread of the coronavirus and implementing countermeasures. The data has been provided to the Korea’s Center for Disease Control (CDC). “In addition to the epidemics, we have so many other pending issues arising from digital and social equities, un-contact services, and job security. We are very open to collaborate and cooperate with other countries to deal with this global crisis,” Yong said. During the subsequent panel discussions, David Dollar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said, “The global economy in the coronavirus era will not have a rapid V-shaped recovery, but rather will fall into a long depression for at least two years.” He pointed out that if countries practice protectionism like they did during the Great Depression, the recession will be even worse. Hence, he urged the international community, especially developed nations, to avoid protectionism, consider the economic difficulties of developing countries, and provide them with financial support. Co-Director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution Rebecca Winthrop raised concerns over the recent shift to online teaching and learning, claiming that insufficient infrastructures in low-income families in developing nations are already causing added educational disparities and provoking the inequity issue around the world. “The ways to provide quality education equally through faster and more effective means should be studied,” she said. Professor Joungho Kim, the director of the KAIST GSI and the forum’s organizer, concluded the event by saying that this forum will be a valuable resource for everyone who is providing assistance to those in need, both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. (END)
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