Internet search for Covid-19 symptoms on the rise in Qatar
May 30 2020 10:27 PM
Dr Ahmed Elmagarmid (L), Dr Sanjay Chawla
Dr Ahmed Elmagarmid (L), Dr Sanjay Chawla

There has been an increase in the number of people searching the Internet for the symptoms of Covid-19 recently, according to findings presented at a webinar by Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), part of Hamad Bin Khalifa University.
“One interesting thing in Qatar is that more and more people are searching about the symptoms of Covid-19. Earlier, more people were searching for the Covid-19 virus and its impacts,” said Dr Sanjay Chawla, director of the Qatar Centre for Artificial Intelligence at QCRI.
“The online trends are almost the same elsewhere in the world. In the US, people were searching for facts about virus and then the symptoms of the disease as well as unemployment and the political aspects of the disease. In Qatar, the main search topics were the virus and the symptoms of the disease. This shows that people are more cautious about the disease,” explained Dr Chawla.
Dr Chawla was moderating the last session of a webinar series organised by QCRI to discuss the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in fighting Covid-19. The webinar series, ‘AI and Data Science for Covid-19’, discussed how data exploration can help manage the disease and respond positively to the crisis management of the disease.
According to Dr Ahmed Elmagarmid, executive director of QCRI, scientists at Qatar Foundation’s research centres will go back to the drawing board to find ways to improve their solutions once the situation has been contained.
As for the efforts to contains the disease in Qatar, Dr Elmagarmid highlighted that the lockdown efforts have paid well in controlling the intensity of the disease in the country.
“Lockdown measures have helped contain the disease in a very big way. That is why we have a very low number of serious hospital cases,” he noted.
He highlighted that introducing new technology, especially in the middle of a pandemic, and adapting to it is hard. “I asked myself, why is contact-tracing or most of the contact-tracing in China automated, and has very high proliferation? And then, reading an article I saw, in New York, they were very proud that they trained 300 contact tracers. So, there is this sort of gap between technology and its adoption.
“When you’ve got healthcare workers and public health officials running around, trying to deal with life and death situations, and you’re handing them a technology that’s new to them, it won’t be very effective. As technologists and computer scientists, we have to step back and see how we develop and how we introduce new technology.”
As for contact tracing apps and citizens’ privacy, Dr Faisal Farooq, principal scientist and head, Digital Health Research at QCRI, said: “Any kind of crisis has led to this – as we know historically. After 9/11, people gave up a lot of their civil rights. This caused a backlash, but then after a lot of introspection, people started realising that the shift had happened. And this is no different.”
However, Dr Farooq highlighted that as researchers, especially from the computer science and technology sector, their responsibility should be to create solutions that draw a fine balance between privacy and civil rights.
“There is the policy side of things where we can definitely enforce our influence – this is where we create solutions to solve problems while also taking into consideration the issues of privacy. It should not be a case of giving up one thing to get another.”
QCRI scientists Dr Ashraf Aboulnada, Dr Kareem Darwish and Dr Preslav Nakov also took part in the panel discussion.

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