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How Israel Is Harnessing Technology to Control the COVID-19 Pandemic

Faced with the century’s most serious public health challenge yet, Israel moved swiftly to contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, harnessing data-driven technologies and public health measures.

Israeli public health officials, researchers, and technology leaders elaborated on the country’s strategy in “Technological Control of the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Israeli Test Case”, a recent webinar hosted by the Foreign Trade Administration at the Ministry of Economy and Industry, the Ministry of Health, and the Israel Innovation Authority.

Attracting 500 participants from across the globe, the webinar offered an in-depth look at two tools that have been central to the country’s efforts against the virus: First, a business intelligence system that enables the Ministry of Health to monitor contagion links in the population and can be used to inform mitigation strategies in specific areas. The tool allows public health officials to monitor confirmed cases across a number of different parameters, including total generations of transmission, case origin, and more. Rapidly identifying chains of transmission has been critical to stemming the spread of the virus and to reaching the milestone of more recoveries than active cases, which the country achieved recently.

The other tool, HaMagen (“The Shield”), is an easy-to-use Ministry of Health app downloaded by more 1.5 million Israeli citizens and residents since it went live on March 22.

Utilizing location algorithms, a brief questionnaire, and user-provided data, the app informs users whether they may have been exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 patient – encouraging rapid isolation of potentially exposed individuals. Users can decide whether to share their past two weeks of GPS location history with the app, which does not transfer any data to the Ministry of Health. Reflecting officials’ commitment to reaching all sectors of Israeli society, the app is available in five languages: Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian, and Amharic. Operating on open source code, the app makes it possible for programmers across the globe to suggest and design new features, while the app’s control system gives the user sole discretion over their information.

Complementing Israel’s other efforts against the pandemic – including early border restrictions that began on January 31, upgrading laboratory testing capacity, early and decisive social distancing measures, early case identification, and isolation of close contacts – the tools employed by Israel’s public health officials tap into the country’s technological prowess and its deep commitment to social responsibility.

Through Healthcare Israel, a government-to-government innovation agency within the Ministry of Health, Israel is bringing its know-how in health and technology to countries around the world. The agency provides other governments with needs assessments, expert consulting, and integrative projects designed to boost system performance and capacity. As Israel makes progress against the first wave of COVID-19, the country stands ready to help the wider world meet this threat head-on.