UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — An outbreak of coronavirus provoked a sharp increase in demand for equipment to detect symptoms of the disease. Chinese manufacturers of thermal imagers work around the clock to deliver their complexes to airports, train stations and other public places. It pays off – since the beginning of the year, these companies have risen in price by 80%
In Wuhan, China, which has become the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak, the streets are deserted, and most enterprises are tasked with temporarily closing. However, the factory at Wuhan Guide Infrared is in full swing: 2600 of its employees work around the clock to fulfill orders for fever detection systems, with which the authorities hope to contain the spread of the epidemic.
Over the past couple of weeks, China’s largest manufacturer of thermal imagers has sold thousands of kits, although it usually only sells about 100 units a year, said sales manager Thomas Chen via email. Authorities and companies are in a hurry to install equipment at airports, railway stations and other public places.
“We did not stop production even for the Chinese New Year and are now working at full capacity,” Chen emphasizes.
The Chinese army, one of the key customers of Wuhan Guide Infrared, will have to wait – the plant has stopped manufacturing night vision devices and other devices to fully utilize resources for the production of coronavirus symptom detection systems. The cost of the company’s thermal imagers ranges from $ 5,000 to $ 30,000.
Since the beginning of the year, Wuhan Guide Infrared shares rose 85.9%. At the close of trading on Monday, they cost 39.04 yuan ($ 5.59), and the company’s market capitalization reached $ 5.16 billion. As a result, Wuhan Guide Infrared became the fourth largest technology company on the Shenzhen Exchange. Due to this rally, the founder of the company, Huang Li, grew to $ 3.4 billion.
Shares of the company’s smaller rival, Zhejiang Dali Technology, rose 79% over the same period and now stand at 19 yuan. At the same time, the Shenzhen Exchange Index has grown by only 2.9% since the beginning of the year. Zhejiang Dali Technology management did not respond to a request for comment.
Thermal imager manufacturers in other countries also claim that a flurry of orders has fallen on them – airports, schools, hotels, shopping malls and theaters around the world want to detect fever symptoms.
“Demand is now unprecedented. If you try to call our office, you most likely will not be able to get through – all lines are busy, ”says Leonard Lim, founder and CEO of Singapore-based Omnisense.
Such systems were first tested during the SARS epidemic in 2003. The complexes have built-in cameras that read infrared radiation coming from people and objects that is not visible to the naked eye. Special software creates a heat map of exposed skin. Some systems can accurately read information from people directly from the crowd, but for others it is necessary that a person stands facing the camera motionlessly and the corners of the eyes are clearly visible at the bridge of the nose – it is at these points that the skin temperature is closest to body temperature. Those with an elevated temperature are taken aside for further verification.
In the United States, incoming tourists from China are checked with non-contact infrared thermometers because the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved full-height thermoscanners to detect symptoms of the disease. Nevertheless, doctors have long doubted the effectiveness of any checks when entering the country to prevent the entry of viruses. Partly because the carrier of the virus may not show any symptoms at the time of arrival.
Analysis of 400 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection showed that, on average, five days elapse from infection to the onset of the first symptoms. According to researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, this means that thermal scans at airports can reveal a maximum of one in five carriers of coronavirus after they spend 12 hours in the air.
The World Health Organization argued that, during previous epidemics, significant investments in technology were far from always and not always effective. But on January 24, the organization reported that during the current epidemic, thermal scans have revealed a much larger proportion of cases than before.
Lim is convinced that due to the long incubation period of some viral diseases, screening for symptoms should be done everywhere. “The patient can be tested at the airport, but then he gets to the casino or museum – and then the symptoms will make themselves felt,” he explains.
Scientists doubt the effectiveness of previous-generation devices for detecting the fever that was used during outbreaks of SARS and H1N1 swine flu. But in 2018, specialists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that there is growing evidence that new types of infrared scanners “when using the appropriate equipment and the consistent conduct of proper procedures” determine a person’s temperature with much greater accuracy.
Equipment currently on the market is notable for varying degrees of sensitivity and price.
Infrared Cameras, a small private company in the city of Beaumont, Texas, sells a system that is approved for use in medicine by the Food and Drug Administration and costs $ 10,000. For verification, a person needs to stand still facing the camera, which will also be visible there is an object that emits established infrared radiation and is called a black body in the framework of the study.
Company founder Gary Streikhan says that two weeks ago, one client ordered 230 units of equipment, and therefore the company is now increasing production rates. In addition, Infrared Cameras sends the price list to thousands of potential buyers. Among them are the company organizing sea cruises, a private school for girls in Hong Kong, and a Chinese manufacturer who wants to integrate an infrared camera in a robot so that people do not have to check for allegedly infected people.
The businessman complains that unscrupulous companies that sell thermal cameras for industrial use with an error of 2 degrees Celsius are trying to take advantage of the high demand for thermal imagers. “Crowds of upstarts want to cash in on an epidemic,” he says.
The American manufacturer FLIR Systems also produces cameras certified by the Food and Drug Administration. According to one of the competitors, due to an outbreak of coronavirus, this company increased sales. A spokesman for FLIR Systems said he couldn’t comment now, as the company had a period of silence due to preparations for the publication of financial statements on February 27.
In turn, Omnisense stopped a key production – the assembly of night vision cameras – to bring to the market the latest version of its Sentry Mark4 fever detection system. Company CEO Leonard Lim says the system can determine the temperature of the skin of the face and neck of a walking person with an accuracy of 0.2 degrees Celsius. The price of the issue is from $ 20,000 to $ 25,000. According to the head of the company, the symptoms are detected automatically, due to which, during emergency situations, you can install many complexes, having trained personnel only in basic operations.
Until recently, Omnisense refused to sell to China due to concerns about the poor protection of intellectual property in this country. However, after customers close to Beijing promised the manufacturer tax breaks, Lim said he was ready to enter the Chinese market.
Chen from Wuhan Guide Infrared says that when employees come to work, the company checks their condition with in-house equipment. Moreover, every two hours during the working day, the body temperature of the workers is measured by specially trained employees. Since the start of the checks, several people have been quarantined at the nearest hotel, but they have all recovered.
“The virus does not stop us from producing, but only adds work,” Chen says.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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