COVID-19 has shocked the world and caught most countries, businesses and individuals unprepared. This sudden disruption has forced many of them to come up with innovative solutions and improvise, mainly in order to tackle the health emergency. While the health risks are currently the most frightening and upsetting, the social and economic crisis has slowly started, but it still needs time to fully unravel and come into the focus of public attention.
Innovation in the public health systems is taking a serious of forms. For instance, video consultations and online consultations are now becoming regular practice for dealing with patients. This practice is rapidly taking hold in both acute and primary care, although it would have taken years to establish it in ordinary circumstances. Other examples are the test for diagnosing of breathlessness which has been introduced as soon as the emergency erupted or apps that trace the movement of infected patients and monitor their health condition. This fast transition brings certain risks such as data privacy risks or digital divide due to the limited access to health care of those parts of populations that lack digital connection.
However, not only public entities have they introduced novel practices and devices in order to tackle the COVID threat, but also businesses and creative individuals. It should be noted that it is not first time in the history that we see crisis-driven innovation: during the Second World War the first digital computer and rocket technology came to the fore. Although the current pandemic has had a devastating effect on our economies or our social lives, it has also sparked creativity and imagination.
Spiderman-esque wrist-mounted disinfectant sprays and wristband that buzzes whenever you’re about to touch your face are only some of the examples of human inventiveness and initiative when faced with the “invisible enemy”. Other recent patents include a snood mask with an antiviral coating and a basic ventilator designed to help patients breathe and which also kills the corona virus. This ventilator also cleans the room of viral particles and only supplies purified air to the patient. Other prototypes that have been made recently are printable protective face shields, temporary acrylic doors for supermarket fruit displays, disposable doorknob sleeves and an elbow-operated extension for lift buttons.
One of the urgent needs that has been recognised by those engaged in “coronavirus innovation” are hands-free door openers. Since scientists estimate that the coronavirus survive in stainless steel for up to three days, these devices could save lives, particularly in hospitals. Some door-opening devices are already circulating on the market, such as the “hygienehook”, created by British designer Steve Brooks. The hook is small enough to fit into a pocket, made from easy-to-clean non-porous material, and is available in four different varieties. However, there are also some free inventions that are available to everybody. For instance, a Welshman devised a hands-free door opener – which clips onto door handles and can be operated using the forearm – after his wife visited a hospital and saw the difficulties staff were facing. He has since distributed the 3D design online for free and is asking people to print and distribute the handles wherever possible. A number of the designs, such as foot-operated doorknobs, may take hold in a world whose attitude to hand hygiene may be permanently altered.