The ICT twist with COVID-19

The Kingdom of Tonga, along with neighbouring Pacific Island countries, are dealing with the impacts caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic. Every sector has been affected including IT. The Government of Tonga is struggling to protect the health and well-being of citizens while providing a stable and safe environment for its citizens as the pandemic worsens overseas.

Though Tonga is COVID-FREE, it is preparing for the outbreak reaching its shores. Tonga carried out a national lock-down period in May 2020, where its workforce both in the public and private sector were required to work from home. Schools were also closed and students were required to remain at home and study. Since then, Government has made efforts to increase readiness with regards to working and learning from home for any future lock-downs. The Ministry of Education has put in place an online learning platform for all schools and has carried out multiple trials with much success. Government ministries and businesses have also put in place technologies and IT resources to help relevant staff work from. VPNs and video conferencing platforms such as Zoom have grown popular especially with those in corporate and executive circles. Zoom is being used for trainings and meetings despite using both paid and free subscriptions. There is a growing need for proper training in order to use these technologies safely and effectively.

But not everyone was able to accommodate for remote work. Some were unable due to the nature of their work as well as other factors such as (i) Accessibility concerns; (ii) Security challenges and (iii) outdated policies and regulations that recognizes working remotely as an acceptable mode of work. Other issues include staff struggling to balance work and home obligations having to deal with distractions and responsibilities at home.        

With more and more people working from home, Cybersecurity risks are likely to increase. Data theft and fraud are then more likely to happen in this environment. Existing challenges in using IT resources within each organisation, will surely make things difficult for IT administrators and technicians in a more remote-working environment. These existing challenges include users using simple passwords, sharing their work laptops and their login credentials with their family members so that they use it for personal use.

The spread of this deadly virus has caused a lot of regional and international conferences to be cancelled or moved online. These conferences have provided many partnership opportunities to strengthen and build capacity especially those in the Pacific Islands. They provide as networking and collaborative opportunities. While virtual meetings provide a solution during the pandemic, it has limitations and it inhibits the ability to truly interact and connect with partners and colleagues from other countries.

Aside from work settings, there is a rapid increase in the use of social media and video call platforms such as Google Hangouts, WhatsApp Video call, Skype and Facebook messenger by the general public. More than ever, these platforms help people stay connected especially those who are in quarantine, isolation as well as those stranded overseas due to border closures. Social media, teleconferencing, working from home, education from home, selling and buying online, are some concepts that are not new to Tongans, however, they have become more apparent and critical as a result of this pandemic. As a result there is a need to strengthen IT resources, capacity building and cybersecurity in order to provide a stable, secure environment for its citizens.

Author: Seluvaia Kauvaka , October 2020.
Chairlady – Tonga Women in ICT (TWiICT)

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