How the tech industry is responding to the coronavirus outbreak

Andrea Park - Print  | 

As the toll of the global coronavirus outbreak reaches more than 7,000 confirmed cases and 170 related deaths, the technology industry has reacted by scaling back operations in China and providing funding and other resources to aid in developing a cure.

Here are five ways tech companies are responding to the epidemic:

1. Fighting disinformation: Mirroring the rapid spread of the disease is the equally fast-moving spread of untrue information about coronavirus online. Several social media platforms have taken action to battle this misinformation.

Facebook, for one, is labeling false claims about the disease as inaccurate, attaching "fact checks" and deprioritizing the posts in users' feeds; a YouTube spokesperson said the platform is "investing heavily to raise authoritative content on our site and reduce the spread of misinformation"; and when Twitter users search for coronavirus-related content, they are steered toward credible information from the CDC.

Additionally, as The Daily Beast reports video-sharing app TikTok is seeing an increase in the number of users claiming to have contracted the virus for attention, a spokesperson for the company told CNN in a statement, "While we encourage our users to have respectful conversations about the subjects that matter to them, we remove deliberate attempts to misrepresent authoritative sources of news."

2. Limiting Chinese operations: Several major tech companies have announced that they are restricting travel to China and temporarily suspending or slowing operations in the region to protect employees from the virus.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company has closed one store in China, is limiting employee travel only to "business critical travel" and is providing Apple employees in China with care kits, CNBC reports. Google, meanwhile, has reportedly completely shut down its China offices, including outposts in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft have also reportedly instated bans on all non-essential travel in the region.

3. Donating funds: Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba and China's richest man, pledged 100 million yuan, or about $14.5 million to assist efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine, Business Insider reports. Chinese tech giants Tencent, Baidu and ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, have also reportedly donated to the cause, while Bill and Melinda Gates have funneled $10 million in emergency funds to support frontline responders in China and Africa.

4. Finding a cure: As researchers and pharmaceutical companies including Johnson & Johnson and Inovio Pharmaceuticals race to develop a viable coronavirus treatment, a small biotech company announced Jan. 22 it is testing antibodies for the virus.

"We appreciate the threat this pathogen presents, and are utilizing our technologies to determine whether we currently have, or can identify, therapies to neutralize this virus," George Scangos, PhD, CEO of Vir Biotechnology, said in the announcement. "We don't know yet if these efforts will be successful, but we are working aggressively to find out."

5. Identifying new cases: Epic released a software update to its standard travel screening questionnaire on Jan. 22 to help healthcare providers identify potential cases of coronavirus. If a patient has recently traveled from China or displays symptoms of the respiratory infection, the EHR automatically prompts providers to begin isolation precautions.

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