Coronavirus(COVID-19) caused by SARS-CoV-2 has brought panic across the world. The viral outbreak occurred just before the Lunar New Year in China – a time during which millions of Chinese were expected to travel for the holidays. World Health Organization(WHO) has avoided calling it a pandemic as it might prompt governments to needlessly or prematurely change their strategies in ways that could undermine their efforts at containment.
This changed on March 11th when the WHO declared the viral outbreak as a pandemic. According to them, a pandemic is the “worldwide spread of a new disease.”
🚨 BREAKING 🚨
"We have therefore made the assessment that #COVID19 can be characterized as a pandemic"-@DrTedros #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/JqdsM2051A
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) March 11, 2020
So far, there have been 126,369 confirmed cases, 4633 deaths and 68304 recovered cases. 124 countries and territories around the world and 1 international conveyance according to Worldometers.
"If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those with a handful of #COVID19 cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission"-@DrTedros #coronavirus
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) March 11, 2020
So here’s how the viral outbreak has affected the tech industry.
Google has cancelled this year’s I/O due to concerns around coronavirus as the tech giant prioritises the health and safety of its developer community in accordance with health guidance from the CDC, WHO, and other health authorities.
Google has moved all on-site interviews to Google Hangouts and BlueJeans. The company also offered free access globally(usually $13 extra per user per month) to Hangout Meet’s advanced features to all GcSuite and G Suite for Education customers till Ist July so that companies and or organizations can host meetings or live stream to up to 100,000 viewers within a single domain.
Google cancelled another conference, Google Cloud Next in San Fransico. This conference dedicated to G Suite plus other cloud computing tools will now be a digital-first event.
Google stopped most international travel for its employees while also expanding work from home policies. On March 11th, Google advised all its employees in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and North America to work from home. Sundar Pichai, Google CEO urged his people to “contribute” to social distancing.
Contributing to social distancing if you are able to, helps the overall community spread and most importantly, will help offset the peak loads through critical healthcare systems and also saves it for people in need. (based on expert advice). Please contribute if you are able to https://t.co/RNUh2kSyIJ
— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) March 10, 2020
Google has also given its temporary staff and vendors globally paid sick leave if they have to take time off because of COVID-19 through a new fund that got announced yesterday. The fund will have members of their extended workforce compensated for their normal working hours.
Hourly workers would also get their regular pay if they had to miss work due to COVID-19.
So all these companies were engaging in non-essential travel before?
— Joe Weisenthal (@TheStalwart) March 5, 2020
Google launched an SOS alert in partnership with the World Health Organization to provide resources on coronavirus so that people find the alert atop results page with direct access to safety tips, info, resources, and Twitter updates from the WHO when people search for related information on Google.
The work done by dozens of fact-checking organizations around the world on #COVID19 is searchable on the Fact Check Explorer. Hundreds of fact checks on the topic are available: https://t.co/albRxV5Rwv
— Alexios (@Mantzarlis) March 7, 2020
YouTube, the Google-owned giant video platform will bring up credible sources such as medical experts plus verified news outlets when users try finding videos about the viral outbreak.
It also seems like Google is hiding Play Store search results for “coronavirus” or “COVID-19”. It could probably be a bug but with high traffic for the search terms, it could be some counter-abuse measure and prevent misinformation surrounding coronavirus.
Microsoft is offering a free global six-month trial of its premium Teams chat app. It was initially meant for hospitals, schools and businesses in China and is now worldwide. the free version had limitations on certain features such as no option to record meetings and 2GB of file storage which now gets upped to 1TB.
Beginning next week(March 10), the Redmond based tech giant has said it has plans to update the free Teams app to reduce the restrictions on user limits plus allowing users to schedule meetings for video calling and conferencing with the aim of taking care of the wellbeing of Microsoft’s employees and supporting their customers in dealing with business impact during this coronavirus outbreak. By making Teams available globally for free for six months, Microsoft hopes that they can support public health and safety by making remote work even easier.
Microsoft cancelled its Most Valuable Professional(MVP) summit that was scheduled to happen in the Seattle suburbs of Bellevue and Redmond. The event will be a digital-first event.
Microsoft has advised its employees to work remotely.
Microsoft Build(May 19-21 in Seattle), Ignite9Sep. 21-25 in New Orleans) will go on as scheduled while Microsoft WSLConf(March 10-11 in Redmond, WA) has been cancelled and made into an online-only event.
Facebook cancelled F8 developer conference plus a marketing conference. The F8 conference will now be replaced with what the company calls “locally hosted events, videos and live-streamed content. They banned social visits to their offices worldwide(35) – business visits will however continue. Job interviews with the company will also be conducted via video conferencing.
Facebook has halted new orders for its VR headset, Occulus Quest as they expect additional impact to their hardware production timelines.
Facebook will be running free ads for WHO plus other organizations who are working to fight the novel coronavirus. The social network will also direct searches for the virus to the World Health Organization (WHO) or local health authorities.
In his Facebook post, Mark says that they’re also focused on stopping hoaxes and harmful misinformation.
Following coronavirus concerns, the company also pulled out of SXSW.
Instagram is trying to make legitimate coronavirus information more prominent. They’re also removing harmful misinformation, banning ads that are trying to exploit the current coronavirus situation while also blocking and restricting hashtags being used to spread misinformation.
Twitter has placed travel restrictions on employees – they have suspended noncritical employee travel. The policy was effected immediately until a vaccine is available or until WHO or Centers for Disease Control(CDC) deem it appropriate to step back from pandemic precautionary measures.
The social media giant has cancelled employee travel plus their CEO’s keynote at the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival.
SXSW has been cancelled.
what if @AmazonStudios or @netflix or @Apple just bought all the films from @sxsw and did a sxsw x streamer film festival, coronavirus edition. build online community around it. films get bought and seen. and the streamer is a hero to indie filmmakers and fans 🎬
— nina gregory (@ninaberries) March 7, 2020
Twitter is also trying to fight coronavirus misinformation on its social media network by directing its users to legitimate content and flagging unsubstantiated posts. Twitter will remain vigilant on items trending on its platform and check any uncoordinated attempts to spread disinformation at scale.
There’s an expanded search prompt that ensures that when users come to Twitter for information about the #coronavirus, they’re first met with credible and authoritative information. The company is also partnering with NGO’s, experts and governments to make sure coronavirus information is accurate and updated.
📢 We’re stepping up internal & external efforts to protect the public conversation & help people find authoritative health information on #Coronavirus / Covid-19. https://t.co/sajbTsOCmV
— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) March 4, 2020
Twitter CEO just cancelled his upcoming sabbatical six-month stay in Africa. Jack Dorsey says he will revaluate his plans in light of COVID-19. In a Twitter thread, Jack pointed out that he made a mistake for not providing context about the decision to move to Africa.
The company has now ordered all its employees worldwide(4900) to work from home until further notice. It was a suggestion last week but now that the viral outbreak has become a pandemic, the directive is now mandatory.
The company has said that they will continue paying contractors, vendors and hourly workers for standard working hours if they will be unable to perform their duties at home.
Twitter will also be providing both reimbursements for home office setup expenses and for parents who may have to pay additional daycare costs.
Apple is only allowing vetted coronavirus apps on its App Store which is a good thing. Apps that have not been vetted by health organizations or governments are being rejected. Apple says that the reason for this is because “apps with information about current medical information need to be submitted by a recognized institution.”
Apple implemented strict travel restrictions for its employees. The company has also encouraged its employees to work remotely if their job allows from March 9th to the 13th. Apple has also indefinitely shut down all of its stores in Italy.
It’s unknown if Apple will cancel this year’s WWDC, its annual developer conference planned for later this year.
Other Tech Companies
IBM announced travel restrictions. Salesforce announced health and safety measures for its employees. Amazon has asked its employees to stop all non-essential domestic and international travel plus recommended its Seattle and Bellevue employees to work from home.
Here are complete lists of all tech and non-tech conferences cancelled(in-person), replaced by an online-only event or postponed.
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- A Chinese government-owned think tank is quietly soliciting opinions to gauge how the international community might receive a Chinese alternative to the World Health Organization.
- Humour can relieve anxiety but it can also stoke racial tensions or spread misinformation. So, the answer to if its okay to make Coronavirus memes and jokes isn’t simple.
- A mathematician who studies the spread of disease explains some of the figures that keep popping up in coronavirus news.
- How Wuhan’s connectivity with the outside world has jumped in the past two decades—creating dozens of new pathways for the spread of the coronavirus.
- Coronavirus, synchronous failure and the global phase-shift.
- I lived through SARS and reported on Ebola. These are the questions we should be asking about coronavirus.
- One doctor’s life on the coronavirus front lines. ‘If we fail, what happens to you all?’
- Love in the time of Coronavirus: How the budding pandemic is making and breaking relationships.
- Coronavirus is coming, and we’re all horny for quarantine.
- ‘Contagion,’ Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 thriller, is climbing up the charts.