It’s personal… protection equipment
Prevention is better than cure – and in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, this requires a lot of face masks, sanitizer and other types of personal protection. While companies in various industries decided to stop what they’re doing in order to help stitch mask and produce disinfectants, many of Flanders’ universities and research centers also began developing alternative protective equipment. We’ve covered various initiatives in a previous article; here are a few additional examples:
Twikit – a 3D printing company that’s part of the istart program at strategic research center imec – invented two novel types of face masks. The first is a DIY mask for people to make at home. The second is a reusable and more comfortable face mask for medical professionals. To produce the masks, Twikit has gained support from some of the largest companies in the world.
The university of Brussels (VUB) started investigating how to transform snorkeling masks into suitable protective masks with additional filters.
What’s more, with an additional production capacity of more than 1 million liters of alcohol-based hand sanitizer and 5 million liters of other disinfectants, local chemical, pharmaceutical and food companies managed to solve the impending shortage at hospitals, nursing homes and other care institutes in Flanders and the other regions of Belgium. The successful outcome was in a large part due to far-reaching cooperation between the different sectors as well as with the government.
In addition, various agri-food and chemical multinationals with major sites in Flanders – such as AB Inbev, Alco, Cargill, Ecover, ExxonMobil and Oleon – went the extra mile by ramping up their production capacity. This, in order to supply disinfecting alcohol to the healthcare sector in Flanders, Europe and beyond. To highlight one figure: Flanders-based soap producer Christeyns had to deploy extra personnel and schedule night shifts, as 30% of all hospital textiles in Europe are sanitized using its products.
Stopping infection from ‘appening
Technology also has its part to play in terms of prevention. This includes mobile apps like ‘Flattening The Curve’, developed by Flanders-based tech firm Adunio (Vilvoorde), marketing agency Gaga (Merchtem) and medtech start-up MyBingli (Antwerp). Thanks to the support of major partners such as Microsoft Blue Health Innovation Center, Epcon and Keyrus, the app can detect areas with a high number of COVID-19 infections and warn users when they recently were in one of these ‘hot zones’. “This makes it easier for governments and hospitals to make decisions and estimates, while hot zones – areas with many infections – can be identified more easily,” comments Vincent Nys from Flattening The Curve.
In addition, various digital solutions have been introduced to help companies implement social distancing and prevent coronavirus infections between co-workers:
- Rombit (Antwerp) launched a smart bracelet for employees in construction, logistics and other heavy industries. Whenever co-workers come too close to one another, the bracelet sends out a warning signal, but it also permits contact tracing in case of an infection. The Port of Antwerp will be the first to use the new tool.
- Lopos, a spin-off company of digital research center imec and UGent, developed a pin that triggers a sound signal when employees don’t respect the social distancing guidelines 1.
- Two network firms – WMW and Crescent – created a bluetooth device that constantly monitors whether colleagues respect each other’s ‘virtual bubbles’. “A Bluetooth connection enables you to measure the exact distance to another device equipped with Bluetooth, making it a great technology to help co-workers keep a safe distance,” comments KU Leuven cryptographer Bart Preneel.
Prevention beyond the crisis
Some preventive solutions also prove their worth in preventing COVID-19 infections after the initial crisis. Flanders-based infrastructure specialist APK Group provides a great example. Its integrated system of heat cameras, access control solutions and algorithms can screen large groups of people for fever. “The heat camera detects a group of people very quickly,” explains CEO Maarten Broens. “It then zooms in on separate bodies and performs measurements almost instantly. As such, our system can measure the skin temperatures of up to 30 people in just one minute. This is much more efficient than traditional systems that involve more manual work and typically take up to 20 seconds to evaluate the temperature of a single person.
“When a specific person in a group has a high skin temperature and is suspected of having a fever, the system can trigger an alert system, allowing safety personnel to stop the whole group and take more specific measurements,” Maarten Broens adds. “This could be useful in fostering a sense of security immediately after the lockdown measures, when the coronavirus is under control but still lingering worldwide.”