When COVID-19 hit, Hong Kong acted quickly and successfully to contain the outbreak early. And it did so with a mix of many indigenous technologies alongside strong health and safety measures.
Its first port of call was Hong Kong International Airport, which mobilized people – and robots – to stop this virus from dying out.
The airport, the region’s main link to the world, was key to keeping COVID-19 out. They had to move fast.
Steven Yiu, Hong Kong Airport Authority Deputy Director of Service Delivery, said: “It was tough in terms of manpower and resources, but we were well prepared. I think people still remember the 2003 SARS.”
After the lessons learned from the SARS epidemic, the airport took a series of measures, starting with fever measurement.
“We had the temperature taken before the passengers entered the terminal. So if it’s below 37.5C, we let them in. When we get back to normal, we can maintain some measures, such as exit temperature control. It’s likely that Yiu will become a permanent feature inside the airport,” he said.
For airport staff, there is a disinfection chamber developed in Hong Kong that starts with a fire control and uses a sanitizing spray for 40 seconds.
In addition, the airport used a team of cleaning robots developed in the area that disinfect corridors, floors and toilets.
Before other governments acted, Hong Kong acted with border controls, testing and quarantines. The result: In a city of 7.5 million, about 1100 people were infected with fewer than 10 deaths as of mid-July.
New technologies at the airport are just a few examples of how Hong Kong’s tech and biotech firms, as a regional R&D hub, are working with academia to fight the pandemic. Hong Kong Polytechnic University worked on face shields using 3D printers.
Professor Hau-chung Man, Dean of Engineering of the university, who heads the team, said that instant customer feedback helped them change their design. “There’s no way 3D printing can deliver the number you want. 3D printing can only produce one of these in 90 minutes – that’s one and a half hours.
“Using our own machines, 3D printing machines at our university, we designed and made the product in seven days. Then we transferred it to the industry and they were able to produce it in two weeks. The problem was resolved within a month,” said Hau-chung.
Professor Alex Wai, Vice-President and Provost at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, says they are ready and waiting after the final virus hit.
“We had Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and we have colleagues both at our university and at the University of Hong Kong who know that something like this can happen again.
“We actually have a trust fund made up of donations from different companies. We have it specifically for a situation like this – another outbreak or a pandemic.”
Another accelerated anti-COVID-19 project took place at Science Park, which is home to hundreds of tech companies and thousands of staff, including ImmunoDiagnostics.
Dr Kelsey Zhongling, Executive Vice President of ImmunoDiagnostics, says his company has been working day and night preparing its projects.
“We officially started work in early February and within two weeks we have already produced three successful diagnostic kits for this disease.
One of them is called Elisa, which allows more than 90 tests per kit in 2 hours and 30 minutes, so it is very useful in population-based screening. The second is the Point of Care blood test.
This requires just one drop of blood and will show results in 10 minutes without any equipment.
This is technology that helps save lives in Hong Kong and is exported worldwide.