Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic: How can technologies help to detect and stem the deadly virus?

A likely bat-borne virus, an undetected Patient Zero, closed borders, a worldwide quarantine, an economic disaster. This is not the new Soderbergh movie – it’s now our reality! The novel coronavirus is set to break Google search records amidst escalating worldwide distress, after COVID-19, the disease caused by this virus, was declared by the World Health Organization as a global pandemic. We cannot say what comes next, but we have a toolbox of technologies that can help restrain virus propagation. Thermal imaging is one of them, along with diagnostics and sanitizing technologies.

Thermal Imaging

Historically, uncooled thermal imaging was first adopted by the commercial market to control passenger health in airports more than 20 years ago. It is bad to see that COVID-19 will make thermal imaging technology popular again. High fever, one of the disease’s main symptoms, can be easily monitored with the help of thermal cameras. This helps in identifying people among huge crowds, for example in airports or train stations. Thermal cameras detect the invisible black body radiation that all humans emit, at a wavelength between 8µm and 14µm. It’s exactly the radiation that these thermal cameras can capture.

Thermal imaging technology was first developed for military, then for commercial applications such as thermography, surveillance, firefighting, automotive and hunting among others. Both thermopiles and microbolometers can be used. According to Yole’s Uncooled IR imagers and detectors 2019 report there were more than 1.5M thermal cameras shipped in 2019, worth more than $4.5B in revenue.

2019-thermal-imagers market breakdown Yole Développement

Now, we clearly see that fever detection is driving big demand for thermal cameras, and we will see later this year how the coronavirus will affect the global thermal imaging market. This technology will certainly be more adopted in the future for increased security at borders and in airports. We will probably see more companies developing fever monitoring systems, such as FLIR, HikVision, Guide IR, Zhejiang Dali, Testo, Fluke, Seek Thermal, among many others.

Nevertheless, thermal cameras for early fever screening can only do so much. They can detect a high fever but not the virus itself, of course. For actual detection of the virus, proper diagnostic tests are needed.

PCR-based and Imaging diagnostics

As the number of COVID-19 infections increase every day, the search for fast, reliable, cheap diagnosis is greatly needed.

There are mainly two ways to diagnose a viral respiratory infection such as COVID-19. The first is viral testing kits that use the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) for the direct diagnosis of the viral genetic content. The second is indirect diagnosis through the use of imaging such as chest Computed Tomography (CT)-scans or ultrasonography. Many of the severe complications from COVID-19 arise from pneumonia, a condition characterized by inflammation of the air spaces in the lungs. This can be seen on CT-scans as “ground-glass opacities”, which is why CT has been used as a diagnostic tool early on in hospitals in China and now everywhere. Because of its high sensitivity, CT is currently the imaging method of choice to diagnose and monitor patients with COVID-19.

Computed Tomography - Major Players - Yole Développement

All the major CT-scanner players, Siemens, GE, Canon and Philips, are working closely with hospitals and governments worldwide to install new facilities and facilitate the use of CT-scanners in the field. The recent arrival in this market of Chinese players with lower-end scanners might also have a clear impact in this crisis, especially in developing countries.

On the PCR-based diagnostics side, the demand for COVID-19 tests and also for other respiratory pathogen tests to diagnose infected people is increasing rapidly. Indeed, companies offering syndromic respiratory panels have recently observed an increase in their sales, especially in Asia. This is attributed to an increased clinical need right now to rule out infection with other respiratory pathogens, as COVID-19 tests are not widely available yet. It opens up opportunities for large volumes of test production, and several companies like Qiagen, BioMérieux/BioFire, and Randox/Bosch Vivalytic, among others have released tests for the COVID-19.

Actual production of microfluidic devices for molecular PoC - Yole Développement

However, it is legitimate to ask whether the current production capabilities are sufficient to respond to this demand if it reaches millions of tests in the coming weeks. Most companies won’t have the required capabilities, no matter whether they rely on their own production lines or on subcontractors. Certainly, some companies will delay their production of other panels to prioritize the production of COVID-19 and other respiratory panel cartridges.

In this race toward the detection of the symptoms and the virus itself using thermal, PCR and CT scans, people are also looking at how to stem the spread of the virus. While images of people trying to sanitize almost everything through chemical sanitizing are common, another disinfection option is the use of ultraviolet-C (UVC) wavelength LEDs.

UVC LED lighting for disinfection

In China, authorities are now trying to eradicate the virus by disinfecting as much as possible in the surroundings. Here it is the third stage of the fighting plan against the virus. Indeed, UVC light has the ability to kill the virus and can also be used for sterilizing bacteria. Until now, the UVC light has been mainly used in water reactors for disinfection purpose as the UVC light can break the DNA of viruses and bacteria.

UV application roadmap - Yole Développement

Last year, this market was still quite small, worth just $108M. But with growing concerns over the spread of the virus, several companies are using UV light to wipe out any possible germs as part of efforts to face the deadly coronavirus epidemic. This will consequently impact the market positively in 2020. As an example, Shanghai public transport firm Yanggao has converted a regular cleaning room into a UV light disinfection chamber for buses, cutting a 40-minute process down to just five minutes. Companies are therefore now considering integrating UV light and in particular UVC LEDs in the development of their new systems.

As a result, UV LED manufacturers have seen customer inquiries multiply by five over the last month. In this context, Seoul Viosys, a subsidiary of Seoul Semiconductor, launched an Initial Public Offering (IPO) last February and was oversubscribed over 900-fold. UVC LEDs could be a great weapon to face the current threat.

Obviously, there was a “before” for this pandemic, and now there will be an “after”. People have more than ever started to understand that life hangs by a thread. They are only just beginning to realize that with social segregation they can stop the spread of the disease and save countless lives. While digital technologies come to the rescue of the modern worker, technologies can literally rescue infected people backstage. They are related to early diagnostics of COVID-19 and disinfection of sites, namely thermal imaging for fever detection, PCR and CT-scanning for viral diagnosis and UVC lights for disinfection. One thing is for sure: the coronavirus crisis is drastically changing our notions of technology, economy and society. Take care and stay safe.


Dimitrios Damianos - Yole Développement

Dimitrios Damianos, PhD joined Yole Développement (Yole) as a Technology and Market Analyst and is working within the Photonics, Sensing & Display division. Dimitrios is daily working with his team to deliver valuable technology & market reports regarding the imaging industry including photonics & sensors. After his research on theoretical and experimental quantum optics and laser light generation, Dimitrios pursued a Ph.D. in optical and electrical characterization of dielectric materials on silicon with applications in photovoltaics and image sensors, as well as SOI for microelectronics at Grenoble’s university (France). In addition, Dimitrios holds a MSc degree in Photonics from the University of Patras (Greece). He has also authored and co-authored several scientific papers in international peer-reviewed journals.

Sébastien Clerc - Yole Développement

Sébastien Clerc is a Technology & Market Analyst in Microfluidics, Sensing & Actuating at Yole Développement (Yole). As part of the Photonics & Sensing team, Sébastien has authored a collection of market and technology reports dedicated to microfluidics and other micro-devices for both market segments: medical (including diagnostics, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, drug delivery, medical devices) and industrial (including environment, agro-food). At the same time, he is involved in custom projects such as strategic marketing, technology scouting and technology evaluation to help academic and industrial players in their innovation processes. Thanks to his technology & market expertise, Sébastien has spoken in more than 20 industry conferences worldwide over the last 4 years. Sébastien Clerc graduated from Grenoble Institute of Technology (Grenoble INP – Grenoble, France) with a Master’s degree in Biomedical Technologies. He then completed his academic studies with a Master’s degree in Innovation and Technology Management in the same institute.

As a Technology & Market Analyst, Medical & Industrial Imaging, Marjorie Villien, PhD., is member of the Photonics & Sensing activities group at Yole Développement (Yole). Marjorie contributes regularly to the development of imaging projects with a dedicated collection of market & technology reports as well as custom consulting services in the medical and industrial fields. She regularly meets with leading imaging companies to identify and understand technology issues, analyze market evolution and ensure the smart combination of technical innovation and industrial application. After spending two years at Harvard and prior to her position at Yole, Marjorie served as a research scientist at INSERM and developed dedicated medical imaging expertise for the diagnosis and follow-up treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and brain cancers. She presents to numerous international conferences throughout the year and has authored or co-authored 12 papers and 1 patent. Marjorie Villien graduated from Grenoble INP (France) and holds a PhD. in physics & medical imaging.

Eric Mounier - Yole Développement

With more than 25+ years’ experience within the semiconductor industry, Eric Mounier PhD. is Fellow Analyst at Yole Développement (Yole). Eric provides daily in-depth insights into current and future semiconductor trends, markets and innovative technologies (such as Quantum computing, Si photonics, new sensing technologies, new type of sensors …). Based on relevant methodological expertise and a strong technological background, he works closely with all the teams at Yole to point out disruptive technologies and analyze and present business opportunities through technology & market reports and custom consulting projects. With numerous internal workshops on technologies, methodologies, best practices and more, Yole’s Fellow Analyst ensures the training of Yole’s Technology & Market Analysts. In this position, Eric Mounier has spoken in numerous international conferences, presenting his vision of the semiconductor industry and latest technical innovations. He has also authored or co-authored more than 100 papers as well as more than 120 Yole’s technology & market reports. Previously, Eric held R&D and Marketing positions at CEA Leti (France). Eric Mounier has a PhD. in Semiconductor Engineering and a degree in Optoelectronics from the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble (France).

Pierrick Boulay - Yole Développement

As part of the Photonics, Sensing & Display division at Yole Développement (Yole), Pierrick Boulay works as Market and Technology Analyst in the fields of Solid State Lighting and Lighting Systems to carry out technical, economic and marketing analysis. Pierrick has authored several reports and custom analysis dedicated to topics such as general lighting, automotive lighting, LiDAR, IR LEDs, UV LEDs and VCSELs. Prior to Yole, Pierrick has worked in several companies where he developed his knowledge on general lighting and on automotive lighting. In the past, he has mostly worked in R&D department for LED lighting applications. Pierrick holds a master degree in Electronics (ESEO – Angers, France).

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