How are the Tech Giants helping fight COVID-19?

What are the world’s biggest tech giants doing to fight the “Pandemic” called Coronavirus or COVID-19

What is Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a family of Viruses that cause disease in animals. Seven, including the new virus, has made their way to humans, but most cause cold or fever-like symptoms. Two other coronaviruses – the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), are much more severe. The new virus, officially called COVID-19, is also dangerous. So far, around 20% of confirmed cases have been classed as acute or critical.

A group of Chinese researchers predicted in a study concluded in Jan 2019, the emergence of a coronavirus epidemic. They predicted it would emerge from bats, and they also predicted it would start from China. Scientists in China believe that COVID-19 has mutated into two strains, one more aggressive than others, which could make developing a vaccine more complicated.

Why bats?

“Fifteen years after the first highly pathogenic human coronavirus caused the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) outbreak, another severe acute diarrhoea syndrome coronavirus (SADS-CoV) devastated livestock production by causing fatal diseases in pigs,” the study read. “Both outbreaks began in China and were caused by coronaviruses of bat origin. This increased the urgency to study bat coronaviruses in China to understand their potential of causing another virus outbreak.” Surprisingly many human viruses started in bats. The dreadful Ebola and Marburg, as well as rabies, started in bats. Bats are what scientists call a “viral reservoir”, and there are several reasons for this propensity.

Why China?

Bats are spread everywhere on the globe. They can breed superviruses, but why would China be different? In the same study, Yi Fan and fellow scientists predicted several reasons why the next coronavirus as Covid-19 will start from China. For beginners, the majority of coronaviruses can is found in China, and many bat colonies live in and around densely populated areas. Still, it is more than the innate distribution of viruses and bats, and researchers note, namely, hygiene or the lack of it.

The source of coronavirus is believed to be a “wet market” in Wuhan which sells both live and dead animals including birds and fish. The Chinese food culture believes that live slaughtered animals are more nutritious, and this belief may enhance viral transmission. Such markets pose a heightened risk of viruses jumping from animals to humans because hygiene standards are difficult to maintain if live animals are being kept and butchered on-site.
The animal source of the latest outbreak has not yet been identified, but the original host is thought to be bats. Bats were not sold at the Wuhan market but may have infected live chickens or other animals sold there,” the study reads.

China isn’t the only country whose meat-eating culture features some unhygienic practices, but it is definitely one of the leading ones. The famous wet markets, where live animals (both wild and domestic), meat, and other foods are sold together with little concern for hygiene make for an excellent viral gateway both for intraspecies and interspecies transmission.

According to CNN, there have been approximately 395,000 cases recorded as of March 24th 2020, of which 103,750 have recovered, and 17,235 have died.

Ventilators, Hackathons, Donations: Big Tech companies outline to fight coronavirus – White House, Industry launch Super Computing Consortium to Advance COVID-19 Research. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, IBM, and the Department of Energy launched a new effort to accelerate the global coronavirus knowledge of using supercomputers across the United States. Consortium partners include NASA, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, MIT, National Science Foundation, and Department of Energy National Laboratories. The coalesced computing capability of these systems is 775,000 CPU cores and 34,000 GPUs.

The Covid-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium, the public-private partnership effort will combine portions of 16 supercomputer systems from the private industry, federal government, and academia to empower researchers interested in contributing to the coronavirus discovery process. The IBM’s fastest supercomputer – ‘IBM Summit’ housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennesse was used to screen 8,000 different molecular compounds that could bind to the main spike protein of the coronavirus utilized to infect the host cells. The IBM Summit has identified 77 treatments that might be able to stop the Covid-19. However, the results don’t mean that they have found a cure, but it could help researchers develop a vaccine for the deadly virus, which is so far, an essential first step forward.

Together with Microsoft, Amazon has co-created the Covid-19 Response Fund. Amazon is donating $5 million. Google to donate $7.5 million; Facebook will donate $20 million; Apple has committed $15million, while Starbucks Foundation and Alaska Airlines have donated $2.5 million to support the coronavirus relief efforts. While few other tech giants confirmed they would continue to pay the wages of workers employed to deliver services to their office campuses. Reliance Conglomerate donates Rs 5 crore to the Maharashtra Government Relief fund.

The world’s major tech giants Microsoft, Google, LinkedIn (Microsoft owned), Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (Google Owned), together make a plea to combat “misinformation and fraudulent” news during the coronavirus pandemic since they spread even faster than the virus. They are helping millions of people to stay connected while jointly fighting fake news about the virus and elevating authoritative content on the platforms and sharing critical updates in coordination with the Government healthcare agencies around the world.

Facebook is banning ads that guarantee a “cure” for the virus and is helping link people to the reputable source such as WHO and other local resources and giving WHO free ad space to get their message out. On Instagram, the company is pinning a notice to the top of everyone’s feeds with a link to the reliable health sources and banning any in-app effects that are not from a reputable health source. Twitter also has a similar notice which appears if you search for coronavirus-related hashtags, and they are also removing tweets that suggest sickness conspiracy theories. Besides, they also face more pressure from the Government to share location data to fight coronavirus.

Amazon is curtailing the number of people who are price gouging for necessary items like toilet rolls, face masks, and hand sanitizers. Apple is also attempting to restrict the spread of coronavirus misinformation by actively removing apps that don’t come from the official health organizations and Government authorities. Google is also keeping any misinformation apps from appearing on their play store. It is also launching a website in partnership with the US Government that offers extensive information on the illness as well as local health resources.

Airbnb announced a no-questions-asked free cancellation policy for the next one month – where anyone who cancels their reservation for any reason, no matter how close it is to the travel date, they won’t be charged a cancellation fee. Uber revealed that it is offering two weeks of financial assistance for the driver who is in quarantine for the virus. Grubhub is putting a freeze o collection of its marketing fees from restaurants who are likely to lose business due to lack of customers.

Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, is shipping the coronavirus test kits to the US and plans to deliver at least 400,000 out every week. In India, the Government till now has been importing the RT-PCR kits from Switzerland and Germany. In a bid to get control over the pandemic, Two companies Altona Diagnostics and My Lab for Covid-19 diagnostic test kits have been validated by the ICMR’s (Indian Council of Medical Research). The names of the kits are ‘RealStar SARs-CoV-2 RT-PCR kit 1.0’ and ‘Patho Detect,’ respectively, to be ‘Made in India,’ at low cost and faster detection. Alibaba the Chinese e-commerce giant through its foundation is donating 1.1 million testing kits, 6 million masks, and 60,000 protective suits and face shields. They are all being sent to Ethiopia first, and from there will be sent to other African countries.

In the US Verizon, AT&T, and others pledge “Keep Americans Connected” and not to cut the internet off during the pandemic to ensure the citizens to work from home and also track the social movements. While in the UK, the Government has turned to some of the country’s most prominent Industrial manufacturing organizations such as Rolls-Royce and other electronics manufacturer Dyson to support the National effort by helping produce life-saving ventilators. Tesla to donate 1200 ventilators from China to LA. SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son offered a million free virus tests this month. An Italian start-up used a 3D printer to replicate respirator valves, saying it would hand them to hospitals for free. Italy is battling the world’s worst outbreak outside China. Salesforce has delivered 9000 masks to the University of California and is working to provide an additional 5 million masks and additional critical PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). In India Reliance led company will ramp up the production capacity of face masks to 100,000 per day as the health worker struggle int eh country to get the right equipment.

French Luxury Powerhouse LVMH which owns Louis Vuitton, TAG Heuer, Tiffany, Bulgari, Dom Perignon, and many other brands has ventured into the hand-sanitizer sector. Factories that produce perfume or make-ups are now being put into service to produce large quantities of hydroalcoholic gels to fight Covid-19.

To summarise, the world’s powerful tech giants are working together in every possible manner to help combat the fearful coronavirus. However, I strongly believe that we need to focus on the following: a)The industry should expedite the research to find the vaccine and drug for curing the disease. b) Each one of us should be responsible by strictly adhering to the WHO guidelines and the Government regulations. c)Report to the local authorities if in case of any symptoms that you might experience. d) We must practice social distancing and continue to WFH and support each other virtually. e) Last but not least, should practice staying healthy and strong, especially mental health is critical since it is the weak and fearful mind that is prone to attract the disease faster.

Image Credit: Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels



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