Virtual Summer School gets New Zealand’s perspective of Covid-19

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The deputy director for general data and digital at New Zealand’s Ministry of Health has said the coronavirus pandemic in the country has been a “wild ride” but there is “still a lot more to do”.

Speaking on day two of the Digital Health Virtual Summer School, Shayne Hunter spoke to attendees in an early morning session about New Zealand’s digital response to Covid-19.

Hunter said that though the country has seen “very few deaths” and that social distancing was very limited, it could not become complacent.

“It has been a wild ride but there is still a lot more to do,” he said.

Hunter explained how early emphasis was placed on having a data platform which could help make sure the country had an “early warning for potential outbreaks” as well as digital inclusion which saw free internet being provided in homes and free mobile data for medical use.

New Zealand also developed a contact-tracing platform which they created by taking “an existing platform for bowel screening and re-platforming it”.

Alongside this, a consumer app was also developed which allowed the public to collect information and could be used for contact-tracing. The app uses QR and integrates Google and Apple’s Bluetooth technology.

Hunter said these products and services “will continue to progress” over time.

The deputy director for general data and digital also listed which data and digital projects have moved forward as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This included the “accelerated uptake of ePrescriptions and removal of paper” and “accelerated the use of collaborative tools”.

The use of cloud services was also brought forward with the pandemic helping “prove the value of cloud”, according to Hunter.

“There was no question with cloud,” he said.

“We had the ability to move fast and at scale.”

Hunter also shared what lessons he had learnt during the pandemic, this included “borders had to stop existing” and “you can build a plane while it is flying, even if it’s flying at high velocity – but it will be a bumpy ride and you need structures”.

Another lesson was “we don’t always need to ‘build things’”, with Hunter saying that the pandemic showed New Zealand’s Ministry of Health that it “can work with third parties”.

“We don’t need to do it all ourselves,” he added.

On day one of the Virtual Summer School, attendees heard from the national CIO and CNIO, who said the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of technology.

The Shuri Network also returned for a panel – one year after it was officially launched.

You can follow all the latest updates from the Digital Health Virtual Summer School by following the #DHVSS20 hashtag on Twitter.

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