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Drones, 5G, Video: China's Digital Virus Response

If you venture outside without a mask in China today, you might get a scolding from a drone.

"Yes auntie, this is the drone speaking to you. You shouldn't walk about without wearing a face mask," a drone tells a surprised woman in a video shared via state media.

In tech-centric China it's no surprise that digital media, gadgets and networks are at the heart of the response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The story began online on December 30 when Dr Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, warned fellow doctors in a group chat of a mysterious new virus he had encountered.

He was one of eight medical specialists who'd posted their concerns to social media at that time. For their pains, they were all rounded up by the police, who advised Li he had "severely disturbed the social order."

Local authorities issued an apology, but in any case Li is now hospitalized with the virus, reports the BBC.

As major state-run companies, much is expected of China's telcos. Like other big firms, they have announced hundreds of millions of yuan in donations. But their most high-profile actions have been in providing 5G connectivity for Wuhan's instant hospital. All reportedly built basestations in less than two days.

China Telecom then created an unexpected hit with a live broadcast over China Central TV of the construction site, at one point registering 80 million concurrent viewers.

Now that the hospital has opened, the three operators are providing cloud-based video conferencing and remote consulting services. China Telecom and Huawei, for example, have supplied a hi-definition system that allows doctors to remotely diagnose patients and share large medical files.

The telcos are also keeping the economy humming in what Bloomberg describes as the world's largest work-from-home experiment, with tens of millions of workers now working remotely.

So far the impact on hi-tech manufacturing is limited. Hon Hai (aka Foxconn), which makes iPhones and other electronic kit, said it would delay the re-opening of its assembly lines until February 14.

But Huawei said it had resumed normal operations in the wake of the Lunar New Year break.

In other developments:

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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