404 No More: Tracking COVID-19 digital response measures around the world

404 No More: Tracking COVID-19 digital response measures around the world

An ongoing scan exploring government policies and programs that support digitization in response to the COVID-19 crisis across both the public and private sectors.
Photo of multicoloured code on screen.
​Sarah Villeneuve
Alumni, Policy Analyst
Darren Elias
Communications Intern
June 17, 2020
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This scan was first published on June 17, 2020 and will be updated on an ongoing basis. Most recent update: June 25, 2020.

Alongside fiscal measures to help businesses survive the initial economic crisis, governments around the world are developing policies and programs to encourage digitization as a means of increasing productivity, expanding connectivity, and enhancing economic resilience. 

Some government efforts to enhance digitization have been focused on accelerating and expanding digital infrastructure initiatives and public sector transformation. However, in addition to accelerating existing trends in digitization, the pandemic has also created the need for new innovative digital solutions. Governments are financing training programs aimed at improving digital skills of individuals and businesses, providing financial support for businesses that are seeking to establish or enhance their digital platforms, and encouraging an expansion of digital commerce. 

This scan aims to provide policymakers with an overview of existing digitization policies and programs, both within Canada and around the world. Canada appears to be at the forefront of these efforts, with the Government of Canada and Government of Ontario having established a joint $57.6-million Digital Main Street program to support business digitization in Ontario. While COVID-19 appears to be accelerating digital adoption in certain areas of the economy, it’s important to note Canada’s position as a laggard in technology adoption. Compared to other G7 countries, Canada ranks last in information and communication technology (ICT) as a proportion of total investment. While emerging government support for digitization is seen as a mechanism to revive productivity and ensure the survival of traditional businesses, policymakers may also need to explore what other supports are needed to encourage lasting change in how businesses and public sector organizations approach digitization post-crisis. 

This page will be continuously updated as more policies are implemented. If there is a policy we have missed, please let us know using this form.

We have provided the Canadian dollar (CAD) equivalent for foreign currency in brackets throughout this scan.

Public Sector Digitization

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed a number of governments to implement large-scale public sector digitization efforts in order to continue providing essential services. 

  • Argentina: In April the government launched Entre Todos, a portal that centralizes initiatives and platforms on topics such as education, work, culture, and entertainment. Additionally, the Cuidar app allows citizens to effectively self-evaluate their systems.
  • Brazil: The Ministry of Infrastructure added new features to the coronavirus tab of the InfraBr app, enabling transportation professionals to obtain information on the availability of different essential services (such as restaurants, gas stations, and auto parts stores) and to identify where service stations are distributing hygiene and food kits. The Ministry is also implementing an online chatbot to support the interaction between government and society. Additionally, the National Land Transport Agency (ANTT) is fully digitizing the registration process of the National Registry of Road Cargo Transporters (RNTRC). At the legislative level, both the House of Representatives and Senate are using a specialized software referred to as the Remote Deliberation System to create a virtual floor for discussion and debate.
  • Canada: The federal government has committed $153 million to the Digital Technology SuperCluster, which has allotted $30.3 million to COVID-19-specific projects focused on improving digital public sector service delivery and scenario planning. Additionally, the Public Health Agency of Canada has implemented digital solutions to reduce points of contact and facilitate real-time data collection to support public health measures.

Digital Infrastructure

Governments around the world are accelerating digital infrastructure initiatives to respond to the increased importance of connectivity for working, learning, and accessing essential services.

  • Argentina: On May 18 the government froze the price of telephone, cellular, internet, and TV services until August 31, declaring the services as essential.
  • Canada: The Government of Ontario has allocated $150 million to expand broadband internet across the province, as part of a previous $315 million plan developed to improve digital connectivity in rural communities.
  • Colombia: The Ministry of Telecommunications commissioned service providers SkyNet and SES to increase internet access in the Amazonas communities worst hit by COVID-19 to connect residents, enable e-learning, and facilitate communication between local medical staff and health professionals in Bogotá.
  • Israel: As part of the broader NIS 80 billion ($31.44 billion) economic rescue package, NIS 7.7 billion ($3.3 billion) has allocated to accelerate the economy via digital infrastructure projects and programs, including improving online access to digital resources.
  • Lithuania: The government has moved up the deployment timelines of both its 5G and eSIM platforms and invested EUR 69.5 million in industrial digitization.
  • South Korea: The government will commit KRW 76 trillion ($85 billion) until 2025 to support initiatives on digitalization. This will include the installation of high-speed internet in 1,300 rural villages and the provision of digital infrastructure (such as computers and Wi-Fi) for all public schools.

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Training Supports

Several governments around the world have announced their support for programs that provide employee training, mentorship, advice, and assistance to businesses who are seeking to adopt digital technology as a way to enhance resilience in a time of physical distancing. 

  • Austria: Federal Minister Schramböck launched the Digital Action Plan, with a focus on expansion of e-commerce, tailor-made employee training, and targeted funding and programs for SMEs. The Austrian government also created Digital Team Austria, a group of companies that will offer digital services to SMEs free of charge for at least three months.
  • Canada: Digital Main Street, created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas with direct support from the City of Toronto, is a service that helps main street businesses achieve digital transformation by providing free workshops and training, building partnerships between start-ups and businesses improvement areas (BIAs) to test new technologies and assist with businesses assessments. 
    • Ontario: The Toronto Region Board of Trade’s Recovery Activation Program (RAP), sponsored by the federal and provincial governments, will connect Ontario businesses of all sizes to industry experts for guidance, mentorship, practical advice regarding process modernization and end-to-end digital transformation.
  • South Korea: The government has established a KRW 1 trillion ($1.1 billion) Smart Korea Fund aimed at the digital sector and has pledged to support the training of 100,000 new AI and software developers.
  • Spain: A number of support measures are available to SMEs through the government-funded Acelera program, endowed with €250 million ($383 million), to promote the adoption of digital technology in businesses by providing technological solutions, advice, and recommendations on cybersecurity.
  • United Kingdom: Businesses registered in the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council area are able to apply to the Digital Support Programme, which provides mentorship, support, and one-on-one training to enhance or improve digital skills and encourage organizations to adopt emerging digital technology-based business models. 

Financial Support for Business Digitization

Alongside a variety of stimulus packages aimed at ensuring the survival of businesses impacted by the crisis, a number of governments have developed financial programs to encourage businesses to digitize as a means to increase productivity and resilience. 

  • Canada: On June 11, 2020, the Government of Canada and Government of Ontario announced a joint $57.6-million Digital Main Street program designed to support Ontario businesses establish or enhance their online presence by providing grants for digital tools. 
  • Israel: As part of a larger NIS 80 billion ($31 billion) fiscal response package, NIS 8 billion ($3.1 billion) has been allocated to support SMEs and government digitization and related infrastructure projects. 
  • Japan: Businesses implementing IT tools that will lead to value-added improvement, such as the efficiency of back-office operations, are able to get a subsidy of ¥300,000 – ¥4,500,000 ($3,700 – $56,000).
  • Lithuania: The government will invest EUR 68.5 million ($105.34 million) in new e-business and digital design products.
  • Malaysia: SMEs can access up to RM 3 million ($940,000) each through the Automation and Digitalization Facility to support the automation and digitalization of operations.
  • Singapore: On April 8, 2020, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) announced a SGD $125 million ($122 million) support package, which has pillars specifically focused on digitization, including 1) strengthening digitalization and operational resilience; and 2) enhancing FinTech firms’ access to digital tools. Additionally, via the Productivity Solutions Grant, businesses can receive support for digitization efforts at a funding level of 80 percent.
  • South Korea: The Government has committed to funding several AI projects that will seek to integrate AI into sectors such as manufacturing and energy.
  • Spain: The government has reduced VAT on digital publications (including e-books and online journals and newspapers) from 21 to 4 percent.

E-banking

A number of countries have implemented policies that incentivize the use of electronic banking and discourage the use of cash, which can accelerate the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

  • Brunei: To encourage social distancing and promote the usage of digital banking, online local interbank transfer fees and charges will be waived for a period of six months for all customers.
  • Ghana: The Ministry of Finance launched three policy initiatives, consisting of the National Financial Inclusion and Development Strategy, the Digital Financial Services Policy, and the Cash-Lite Roadmap. All are designed to deepen financial inclusion and accelerate the shift to digital payments.
  • Kenya: The Central Bank implemented a series of mobile money transfers measures to stay in effect until June 30, 2020, including no charges for transfers of up to KES 1000 ($12), transaction and balance limits increased to KES 150,000 ($1,900) and KES 300,000 ($3,780) respectively, and the elimination of monthly total limits.
  • Liberia: To better facilitate the use of electronic payments, the CBL has suspended fees and charges for electronic transfers and point-of-sale outlets used by merchants and mobile money operators, as well as increased allowable daily limits. As of March 24, 2020, the Central Bank has also increased the allowable daily and monthly limits for mobile money transactions for a period of three months.
  • Mozambique: On March 30, the Central Bank announced the lowering of fees and charges for digital transactions through commercial banks, mobile banking, and e-currency for a period of three months. This includes removing commercial bank charges for transactions carried out through digital channels up to a daily limit of five thousand meticais ($100) for individual clients, cutting the charges for transfers between banks and e-money institutions by half, removing charges and commissions on transfers between clients for up to a daily limit of one thousand meticais ($20), doubling the limit per transaction up to 50 thousand meticais ($1000), and increasing the daily total limit of e-transfers to 250 thousand meticais ($5,000).
  • Nigeria: The Central Bank has declared mobile money service providers (among other financial service providers) as essential services providers and requested law enforcement agencies to provide them security and safe passage.
  • Singapore: The Information Media Development Authority, National Environment Agency, JTC, Housing and Development Board, and Enterprise Singapore will provide a bonus of SGD $300 ($290) per month over five months to encourage more stallholders in hawker centres, wet markets, coffee shops, and industrial canteens to use e-payments and avoid handling cash. Additionally, via the Digital Resilience Bonus, eligible businesses in the retail and food and beverage industries can receive a payout of up to SGD $5,000 ($4,860) if they adopt PayNow Corporate and e-invoicing.
  • Ukraine: The National Bank temporarily cancelled tariffs on bank payments in the System of Electronic Payments (SEP) and provided banks with guidance to ensure and promote their remote and cashless services.
  • Zambia: The Bank of Zambia increased both daily transaction and maximum balance e-money limits for individuals and small-scale farmers and enterprises, approved the use of K8 million ($586,000) from interest earned on Mobile Money Trust accounts to support the the provision of sanitisers at mobile money operator booths, and made a downward adjustment of the Zambia Interbank Payment and Settlement System processing fees to increase the use of the electronic Real Time Gross Settlement System.

For media enquiries, please contact Lianne George, Director of Strategic Communications at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.