Editor, IFSEC Global

February 20, 2020

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Facial Recognition

Can facial recognition help contain the Coronavirus?

As the death toll continues to rise (now standing at  over 2,000) on a daily basis from the outbreak of the Coronavirus, there have been suggestions that CCTV and facial recognition technology is being used in China to help contain the virus.

Concerns over the mass outbreak of COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus, continue, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) urging countries to step up measures to detect and contain the virus, which “poses a very great threat for the rest of the world”.


So, how can video surveillance and facial recognition technology help?

There is plenty of debate over the use of surveillance in China, particularly regarding privacy concerns and the use of facial recognition – this is not just contained to China, as shown in the recent case use by the Metropolitan Police in London. Many of the country’s inhabitants have long been aware of the amount of surveillance infrastructure in place, with plans for this to increase, as suggested in a recent Guardian Podcast on the subject.

However, a report from Reuters indicates that the technology is currently being used to detect cases of Coronavirus and help contain the spread of the outbreak, which started in the Wuhan province and has now infected over 40,000 people in China alone. The report highlights one case study, whereby the authorities were able to track a resident from Hangzhou who had recently taken a trip to nearby Wenzhou – an area that has been affected by the virus – via the use of facial recognition cameras. The individual was subsequently instructed to stay indoors for two weeks.

In addition, Guangzhou City has now rolled out thermometers on its city buses, which utilise facial regonition to scan passengers to quickly identify any symptoms of the virus.

Coronavirus advice for employees

Not stopping there, the report highlights that some surveillance cameras have the ability to recognise low-grade fevers, and therefore may even be used to detect cases of the Coronavirus.

The industry ministry has reportedly since sent a message to the country’s AI companies and research bodies to help identify new ways of containing the outbreak. According to reports, the thermometers can scan passenger foreheads in one second, sending an alert to the driver if an anomaly is detected.

Whatever the concerns surrounding the use of surveillance, particularly in the case of facial recognition, this is certainly an interesting case use.

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