Officials across the globe have used drones in the fight against the pandemic’s spread. South Korea is adding a new weapon to that anti-coronavirus arsenal from above: detecting people with COVID-19-indicating fevers at beaches this summer.

Fever-reading drones

Authorities in South Korea’s east coast city of Gangneung are expanding the missions of drones they initially began deploying over the area’s beaches in 2020. Now, in addition to verifying respect of social distancing measures, the craft will also take temperature readings of sunbathers for fever. Those drones are being equipped with thermal cameras, and will track visitors believed to be feverish until they can be identified and re-tested at ground level.

That’s a step beyond the most common uses of drones in the pandemic thus far. Those have included delivery of PPE and other protective material, and in some cases flights of vaccines to remote areas. Some cities and countries, meantime, have used drones to monitor violation of lockdown orders and social distancing requirements.

Like most nations, South Korea has experienced a renewed spike in COVID-19 cases this winter and has moved to reverse that curve through vaccine distribution. Progress toward that has been halting but sufficient for the government to announce the reopening of beaches in early July. 

Drones control pandemic beach crowds

Over 26 million people flocked to the country’s beaches during the pandemic’s temporary wane last summer. South Korean officials say they found zero instances of COVID-19 infections linked to those sunny, sandy outings. That’s hardly surprising.

Visitors were tested and underwent temperature scans before entering beaches. Once past those checks, they were closely monitored by drones and ground observers. Mask wearing was obligatoryand infringement of social distancing quickly called out. Fences were erected to control movement in and out of authorized beach areas, which were closed at dusk. Those rules are just as tight – if not tighter – this time around.

Use of drones to monitor temperatures (and nark out restriction violators) are reinforcing 2020 measures being repeated this year. Following initial screening, all visitors will get bar coded ID bracelets containing temperature sensors that turn from green to red at fever levels. Cameras on hovering drones can also pick up those tell-tale color changes. 

It’s unknown, however, whether they’ll be equipped with artificial intelligence apps that distinguish COVID-19 fever from pretty bad sunburn.

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