Taking COVID-19 to task
Andrea Cozzolino calls for the creation of an EU digital task force to shape Europe’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Coronavirus is spreading at an alarming rate and, right now, we cannot tolerate any underestimation of its seriousness by EU Member States, particularly as the World Health Organization has declared a pandemic.
Given the severity of this unprecedented situation, the Italian government, like those in Spain and France, is taking drastic measures, is asking its citizens to help contain the spread of the virus, despite its significantly negative impact on daily life and the economy.
However, Europe must also do its part, with determination and courage. The European Union has a political and moral duty to establish a rapid and coordinated response from all countries.
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It should also take a series of extraordinary measures to limit the economic and social impact of the epidemic and to safeguard citizens’ health.
The Commission and the various parliamentary institutions have already begun putting in place the first economic initiatives, to allow European public investments to o‑ set the economic impact of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Furthermore, the European Structural and Investment Funds, already held by the Member States, can be an essential tool.
I also support the Commission’s proposal to renounce, for this year, the reimbursement of unspent pre-financing of €8bn, allowing Member States to invest in health services.
However, I am convinced that in tackling a global challenge of this importance, we need to start thinking differently.
“Europe has a historic opportunity to bend the digitalisation of society to the interests of its citizens and not just to those of the market”
For this, we have a great ally that we are much underestimating - technology. The use of new technologies is opening up unique landscapes in the worlds of work and education: students taking virtual classes, companies and professionals carrying out their activities remotely, workers and social forces organising themselves online.
The future that we imagined, and that we were gradually reaching, has started to become a reality in the space of a few days, from e-learning to smart working to the extensive use of e-government resources to administer large democracies and complex societies.
The drive towards a digital transformation, however, cannot only be the consequence of the ongoing emergency; it must also be part of the response and counterattack.
I was impressed by the South Korean approach to emergency management. The Asian country, a stable democracy similar in size to Italy, is experimenting with cross-analysis of surveillance footage, GPS data obtained from phones and credit card transactions and of COVID-19 positive people to test anyone who may have been exposed to the virus, perhaps when shopping or going to work.
Furthermore, technology is also helping operators manage the hospitalisation of the sick, with positive people quarantined at home monitored via a smartphone app until a hospital bed becomes available.
These experiments, of course, pose huge questions over patients’ rights to privacy. However, they also present us with an opportunity to limit the need for a prolonged lockdown with more useful and intelligent policies that allow communities to escape the grip of isolation.
In an era in which data analysis can monitor our needs, interests and orientations, the authorities cannot limit themselves to asking the population to stay at home.
Europe has a historic opportunity to bend the digitisation of society to the interests of its citizens and not just to those of the market.
Based on what has been done in Seoul, the EU must bring together all the major international players in the ICT sector to form a new task force to respond to the plight of the Coronavirus with the latest and most innovative tools offered by the digital revolution.
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