COVID-19: How are telecom operators intervening?
COVID-19 is a viral disease declared by the World Health Organization, WHO in March 11 as a global pandemic. The novel virus first discovered in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province, has led to more than 50,000 deaths globally.
COVID-19 is believed to have been transferred from animals down to humans; with new strains of the virus discovered. The virus stems from a family of Coronaviruses, including the SARS and MERS which all typically attacks the respiratory system. Symtoms of COVID-19 includes: fever, cough (which are most atimes dry). Others incude,: running nose, sore throat, aches and nasal congestions.
The virus is known to spread from human to human through secretions from coughs or sneezes. Droplets of these secretions from an infected person on surfaces could easily lead to a transfer of the virus to a healthy individual if it is eventually picked up by the hand to the eyes, nose or even the face. Scientists avers that the disease could stay up in a surface outside a host for 72 hours.
The disease has crumpled economies, halted notable events, and killed thousands. Palliative measures have since been taken by governments across the world. In Nigeria as in most other countries, concerted efforts have been channeled towards containing the spread of the disease which presently doesn’t have a cure. Billions have been donated by individuals and private sectors, with the support from the sector, majorly from banks.
How the telecom industry is responding to the COVID-19 outbreak globally
Across Europe, mobile operators are being compelled by the government to share the location details of subscribers. Furthermore, these data helps government agencies monitor movements of citizens in locked-down regions. In Italy, a country with the highest number of cases besides the US, the major network couriers: Telecom Italia, Vodafone and WindTre are helping authorities there with location data of persons. Although these have to a certain extent served the purpose of tracking movements, persons who felt perched to their houses reportedly went about their businesses without their cellphones.
In Switzerland, UPC, one of the country’s largest telecom operator had from the 19 of March upped it’s internet speed to 100 Mbit/s from 10 Mbit/s for six weeks. This is three weeks after an index case was confirmed in the country and it comes with no additional charge. It furthermore unlocked all children’s channels which would remain free of charge from 25 March to 6 May 2020. These benefits are exclusive to the extant provision of about 500,000 wifi locations in Switzerland. This provision enabled UPC customers to browse free of charge.
In the UK, popular telecom firm, Vodafone announced a 30 days free access to unlimited mobile data. This the firm said was to aid its most vulnerable subscribers. The firm also announced that the first 500,000 new subscribers would also benefit from the offer.
Telcos response in Nigeria
Akin to similar moves across Africa, telecom firms in Nigeria are offering little to abet the situation. In Nigeria, access to covid19.ncdc.gov.ng — the government’s recognized Covid-19 update portal is free to access on the four major telecom network — MTN, Airtel, Globacom and 9mobile.
Aside that, MTN Nigeria, the country’s largest telecom network by market share, offers it’s subscribers 300 free SMS services. The offer enables subscribers make 10 text messages each day free for 30 days.
This gesture has been considered by most subscribers as irrelevant. Given that social media messaging had overtaken the mobile SMS messaging services. MTN has also prided itself to announce that it has gifted not less than N500 million worth of airtime, data and analytics to state governments during these restriction periods. It also announced that about N1.4 billion has so far been spent by the telecom firm as relief in form of data, airtime, and devices. This the company says was made to frontline health workers including the NCDC.
Despite donations, Nigerians call for data price slash
Globacom’s Chief Executive Officer, Mike Adenuga, through his foundation, has donated not less than N1.5 billion to aid the fight against the novel virus. However for most other telecom companies it’s business as usual, necessitating calls by Nigerians on social media for a reduction in data prices. The average data bundle in the country is a 30-days plan of 1.5GB for N1000. When the recently augmented 7.5% tax is levied from, this value decreases. Below are some views on social media on the industry’s inputs towards alleviating the burdens brought by COVID-19 on Nigerians.
As at the time of writing, there are 190 confirmed cases in the country. Twenty of which have been discharged. There are 2 proven death from the ailment.
Are telecom firms really doing enough?