June 1, 2021
Ever heard of Bonaire? It’s a magical island in the Leeward Antilles in the Caribbean Sea blessed with unsurpassed natural beauty, and may soon become the first Covid-19 free holiday destination, and then keep it that way.
The Covid-19 virus is putting our world through unprecedented times. Each day seems to present new challenges that we must overcome together. In a step towards normalcy and rebooting our economy, Government has relaxed South Africa’s level 1 lockdown rules around international travel, allowing visitors from any country provided they follow health and safety guidelines.
In an address on Wednesday evening, 11 November, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the easing of these restrictions is to enable all parts of the economy to return to full operation as quickly and as safely as possible. “(We are) opening up international travel to all countries subject to the necessary health protocols and the presentation of a negative Covid-19 certificate. By using rapid tests and strict monitoring we intend to limit the spread of the infection through importation,” he said.
Here is what we can learn from the Island of Bonaire:
When Covid-19 emerged on the scene, EPD Technologies, a South African based company that specialises in electronic pathogen detection, was perfectly positioned to test whether it could identify Covid-19 within the population. Combine this with the advanced predictive modelling capabilities of Apeiros, a South African consultancy focused on enabling businesses to intelligently use their data and technology in order to achieve strategic goals, you have the perfect recipe for a Covid-19 rapid testing solution.
The product scans the body (human or animal) and detects spikes associated with certain pathogens by sending electromagnetic pulses through the body at different frequencies. The scans are non-invasive and administered at a low voltage (the same voltage as 4 AA batteries).
Word of the product reached the shores of Bonaire (the Caribbean Island that’s part of the Netherlands) who asked for some of these products to be shipped there. The aim? To be a Covid-19 free holiday destination, and to keep it that way. The only way to do that is to have rapid testing available for Covid-19 and to be able to manage the guests accordingly.
“Bonaire is working hard to navigate these uncharted waters in order to ensure that every person on our beautiful island is safe and in good health,” says The Tourism Corporation Bonaire.
While the product is still in development, numerous successes have been achieved. A trial has been successfully completed whereby herds of buffalo and cattle were scanned with the aim to identify whether these herds were infected with Brucella and/or Tuberculosis.
They then started scanning certain groups meticulously (over 3,500 scans have been completed since January 2020) over the past 6 months. One group in particular (a factory) used the output from the scans to manage contact between their personnel as not to spread the virus internally, with great success. Apeiros is involved in the data and analytics side of the business. Due to the high volume of scans (necessary in the research and development phase), they needed a way to manage these scans on a daily basis and give results back quickly enough to react on. Some utility applications were created to aid the cause.
Apeiros has also assisted in the development of a cloud-based interface which will allow almost real-time feedback after a scan has been completed, critical for rapid testing. Through the statistical consulting Apeiros provides, they will soon be in a position to not only report accurately on the findings but to build artificial intelligence models that will improve the accuracy of distinction between healthy and infected subjects travelling to Bonaire in future.
The ability to successfully conduct rapid Covid-19 tests will have a major impact on the future of tourism not only in South Africa but internationally. Stay tuned for more developments as this story progresses.
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