Liechtenstein serves as a testing ground for a Swiss-made bracelet to track the COVID-19 virus. For Liechtenstein, that’s a familiar story. Many companies from neighboring countries start in Liechtenstein with innovative technologies. Why?
“The Liechtenstein experiment ” – that’s how the German newspaper SZ called Liechtenstein’s COVID-19 bracelets. It’s a biometric tracking solution that aims at containing the spread of the virus.
The technology was so far used to track women’s fertility. “The aim is to see whether a sensory bracelet, which is already successfully being used to monitor women’s fertility cycles, can detect Covid-19 infection early,” said as spokesperson when introducing the bracelet in late April. The same data, so the idea, could also be used to fight the coronavirus.
The bracelets for the project will be supplied by Ava, a Swiss medical technology company that currently sells them internationally for women to monitor their fertility cycles. Thus, the technology is not Liechtenstein-made. In April, Risch distributed 2,000 bracelets to the first badge of test users and plans to distribute 3,000 more in Q3. The results of the study will get published later this year.
Liechtenstein as testing ground for innovative technologies
What’s more interesting than the bracelet itself is how governments have speeded up the use of digital tools to fight the pandemic. The bracelet program in Liechtenstein was also funded by the government, and executed with the team of Lorenz Risch. He is the president of Switzerland’s Dr. Risch Laboratories, which is already conducting a longitudinal clinical study of 2,000 people in Liechtenstein.
Risch believes Liechtenstein is the ideal testing ground for the technology, as the country is small enough to implement a full-scale study and convince large parts of the population to take part. “When studying Public Health at Harvard University, everyone was always jealous of the fact that I’m from Liechtenstein,” said Risch in an Interview with SZ.
He highlights the importance of quick decision-making processes. After the outbreak of the virus, he directly spoke to government officials. “It’s how it is in such a small country, where you know each other personally,” says Mauro Pedrazzini, Liechtenstein’s minister for social affairs.
Can businesses scale out of Liechtenstein?
Fast-decision making is something other companies have mentioned as well with respect to Liechtenstein. In particular technological innovation, that doesn’t always fit into existing regulatory frameworks, need a flexible governance approach that does not hinder but speed up the development of new solutions. The COVID-19-bracelet is thus a good example.
“This is science, and there is no guarantee [the theory] will work, but it is probable that it could work very well,” Pedrazzini said. “What we and other governments need are early warning systems to deal with this crisis.”
That said, just because one small country allows a technology, doesn’t mean others will, too. In the case of the bracelet, for example, data and privacy protection is a challenge. While Liechtenstein has decided to approve the experiment, other countries might decide against the technology or take significantly more time reviewing it.
Even the fact that Liechtenstein is a member of the Europen Economic Area does not give Liechtenstein-based businesses automatic access to its European neighbors. Each country’s regulator still has the power to prevent the market entry of a Liechtenstein-approved technology. Liechtenstein might still be an ideal testing ground, but just because a technology works in Liechtenstein, doesn’t mean it works everywhere.