Controversial plan to stop virus spread


A data scientist who predicted who would win the Australian election says he has a way to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Professor Bela Stantic, from Griffith University, said scientists could use "big data", extremely large data sets that can be analysed to reveal trends, to track the virus's spread.

But such a process would mean the Federal Government would have to temporarily relax its privacy laws because people's mobile phone data would need to be accessed.

A World Health Organisation report last month said artificial intelligence and big data were a key part of China's response to the virus and helped contain it.

Countries such as China, Taiwan and South Korea use smartphone location readings to trace the contacts of individuals who have tested positive or to enforce quarantine orders.

Using "spatio temporal modelling", Prof Stantic said scientists would track where people had been using their mobile phone data.

"It would analyse movement of people over time and space to find out who got in contact with who, who breached quarantine," Prof Stantic said.

"We see overseas even in a full lockdown people are in breach of it, and until you have a strict policy and identify (those breaches) it can last forever."

Last month Europe's largest telco, Deutsche Telekom, announced it was handing over 5GB of customer data to the Robert Koch Institute, the organisation tasked with co-ordinating a national response in Germany.

And in Italy, Telecom Italia, Vodafone and WindTre have provided data to monitor people's movements.

Data used is anonymous.

While some experts have criticised such moves, Prof Stantic said he believed Australians would be open to it.

"There will be a lot of people who won't have (a problem) because at end of day it will save lives and the economy," he said.

"It can shorten the length of the pandemic and lessen the economic impact.

"There is a know-how of people like me to do it. The intention is to start the discussion to relax this (privacy) policy at least temporarily.

"I'm obliged as a scientist to raise this concern."

Nearly 6000 cases of COVID-19 have now been confirmed across Australia, with 2686 in New South Wales, 1191 in Victoria, 934 in Queensland, 460 in Western Australia, 411 in South Australia, 96 in the Australian Capital Territory, 89 in Tasmania and 28 in the Northern Territory.

The national death toll stands at 46 - four in WA, four in Queensland, 21 in NSW, 11 in Victoria, three in Tasmania, two in the ACT and one in SA - after 15 deaths in the last three days.


Originally published as Controversial plan to stop virus spread


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