From SARS to COVID-19: Digital infrastructures of surveillance and segregation in exceptional times

Shin Bin Tan, Colleen Chiu-Shee, Fábio Duarte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The COVID-19 pandemic, an exceptional crisis, sparked the introduction of new digital infrastructure to halt the novel coronavirus's spread. This paper explores how such digital infrastructure's impact might reverberate over the long term, by comparing Singapore, Hong Kong, and mainland China's utilization of digital technology in response to the 2003 SARS outbreak, and their responses to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. We find that advancements in digital technology since 2003 have boosted governments' surveillance and segregation abilities substantially—most dramatically so in China. Even though some of these new digital interventions are ostensibly designed to be temporary ones to address the needs of the immediate crisis, we argue that the resultant extensions of state power experienced during COVID-19 are likely to have profound long-term effects because they fundamentally affect sociopolitical contexts, institutional capabilities, and digital cultures. We also find that the extent to which governments can extend digital surveillance and segregation abilities during the pandemic is contingent on their respective sociopolitical, institutional, and digital cultural contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103486
StatePublished - Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • China
  • COVID-19
  • Hong Kong
  • SARS
  • Singapore
  • Surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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