Public Private Collaboration in Times of Covid-19 Crisis

This article was written by Tina Ja, Chief People Officer for ACCESS Health China.

Covid-19 has kept us contained for over half a year now. This novel virus has disoriented and reoriented our relationships with once familiar environments, and with each other. The society that we once knew – from our governments and the global economy, to our healthcare and our everyday lives – have all changed. At the time of writing, Beijing has been hit with a second wave, after months of zero cases being recorded. This wave has once again tightened local restrictions and heightened our senses. It is also a reminder that seemingly small, yet disruptive sudden outbreaks, sadly may become the new norm.

Looking back at the beginning of the crisis, the unprecedented and drastic measures taken by the government have proven to be instrumental in dampening the initial impact of the outbreak. One of the most integral parts of the “success” in combating and containing the spread was the strong and fast collaboration between the government and the private sector, in particular the technology sector. From the onset of the outbreak, China’s national government repeatedly emphasized the essential role that information systems and digital technologies should play in epidemic prevention and control. The emphasis incentivized local governments to proactively enlist local technology players to either integrate their existing solutions or to develop tailored solutions for the crisis to support the near-paralyzed public health system. Through collaboration in times of crisis, China’s public and private sectors have helped hinder the domestic outbreak, especially in areas of control and prevention, surveillance, and long-term management.

Given the rate and the scale of spread, the Chinese government needed to rapidly gather information from various data sources. However, traditional information systems lacked the ability to collate information from various sources, and most digital technology solutions were only capable of providing limited interoperable solutions. A centralized and integrated system to coordinate these different components contributing to epidemic prevention and control was what the government needed. Alibaba’s Covid-19 Prevention and Control Public Services Platform for the Zhejiang Province was able to do exactly that. (Please refer to our previous post for more information)

Together with its subsidiaries, Alibaba built an integrated public services platform for the entire Zhejiang Province. The Group collaborated with Zhejiang’s Health Commission in the early onset of Covid-19. Within merely 24 hours, Alibaba mobilized expertise from Alibaba Cloud, Alipay, DAMO Institute, Alibaba Health, DingTalk, and Yida, and built an integrated epidemic services platform. The platform offers around twenty different solutions for residents, communities, medical institutions, and for the government. In its collaboration with the government, Alibaba created solutions to meet the needs of the Zhejiang Health Commission, and the Commission helped Alibaba clear administrative red tape and hurdles in the launch of the platform.

Another example of government-enlisted private sector collaboration is Digital China Health (DCHealth). DCHealth is an innovative company in the industry of healthcare IT and Big Data. With strong support from the Honghu County government, DCHealth built an integrated data platform that enabled the County government to be fully informed and to rapidly respond to a variety of issues throughout the outbreak. In order to conduct thorough analyses, DCHealth was given access to integrate the clinical data from medical institutions, epidemiological data from public health surveillance systems, and other general epidemic data, all into one. This would not have been possible without the support from the County government and the local health bureau. (Please refer to our previous post  for more information)

Digital maps have also played, and continue to play, an important part in pandemic surveillance. Local governments have worked closely with mapping service providers, such as Baidu Map, one of the most used mapping services in China, to trace population flows in order to take preventative measures based on the captured data. Timely and accurate population flow data can effectively help the public combat the epidemic wisely while still staying informed to avoid excessive panic and fear.

As Covid-19 has become more contained in China, the government has progressively opened up domestically, encouraging people to go back to work and to school. However, with the disease still roaming, learning how to co-exist with the epidemic has become a closer reality. Long-term management has become a priority for the government.

Communities need to regularly monitor and track local residents’ health conditions and travel status to reduce the risk of potential outbreaks and manage them. Resident’s health status information is critical for community managers and local governments to quickly understand the spread of Covid-19 at the community-level and to take corresponding measures. However, the traditional door-to-door inspection methodology is inefficient and time-consuming, with risks of transmission.

JD Digits, a leading Chinese digital technology company that connects the real economy through world-class digital solutions, collaborated with local governments to support local community surveys and disease monitoring using its AI enabled solutions. For instance, JD Digits Survey, accessible via WeChat, helped deploy questionnaires and capture key information such as health and return to work status. Another example is JD Digits’ consultation service, which is also accessible via WeChat. The online services offer free medical consultations and treatment recommendations, based on the information from the National Health Commission. Users can also purchase relevant medicines, locate the nearest fever clinics and designated hospitals, see real-time information about the Covid-19, and receive alerts about nearby cases of infections.

With backing from the local government, JD Digits’ AI enabled solutions alleviated manual labour and helped greatly prevent disease transmission by providing safe and efficient technology empowered alternatives.

Over the past seven months, the unique relationship between the government and the private sector has been instrumental in supporting the fight against Covid-19, in areas of control and prevention, surveillance, and long-term management. With China’s Covid-19 situation somewhat normalized, many private sector players have begun offering support and sharing experiences globally. In face of a global pandemic, collaborations have crossed market, geographic, and cultural boundaries. Although there is certainly no straightforward path to fight the pandemic, it is evident that without leadership and support from the government, and commitment from private sector players, we would be much further from the road to recovery.

For more information on the specific Covid-19 related work that companies mentioned in this article did, please check back on our website for a new case study report at the end of July. Our report, Tackling Covid-19 Pandemic Through Integrating Digital Technology and Public Health: Linking Experiences in China to the World, is supported by the WHO and The Rockefeller Foundation.

Links to the Companies mentioned:

  1. Alibaba –
  2. DCHealth –
  3. Baidu –
  4. JD Digits –
  5. WHO –
  6. The Rockefeller Foundation –