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New study says NHS contact tracing app was very effective
by Paul Hill
A new peer-reviewed study that has appeared in the scientific journal, Nature, suggests that the NHS contact tracing app that was used in England and Wales was very effective. It said that 16.5 million people used the app and that 1.7 million exposure notifications were sent to users
The researchers predicted that 6% of app-notified people showed symptoms and tested positive for the virus and that for each notification sent to contacts, one case of the coronavirus was averted. They also said that for every percentage point increase in the number of users, cases could be reduced by 0.8% and 2.3% depending on which approach you use to estimate the figure.
Discussing how it estimated the number of cases averted, the researchers wrote:
The academics involved in the study said that the findings give us evidence that the continued development and deployment of such apps would be beneficial, especially in populations that are still awaiting a vaccination.
England's NHS app to be used as vaccine passport from next week
by Paul Hill
According to a report by BBC News, the NHS app in England (not the contact tracing app) will, from next Monday, double up as a COVID-19 vaccine passport for those who have received both doses of the vaccine. For those without a mobile phone, a paper version of the passports will be available to those who call 119.
The NHS app is already available to download and has been available for a while for those who want to request a repeat prescription, arrange an appointment with a doctor, or view medical records. Individual GP surgeries will have to enable the vaccine passport service for their members but once that’s done it can be used to verify that you’ve been vaccinated.
While the government hopes the vaccine passport will speed up the screening process for foreign travel, it could be a while before destinations accept them in place of taking a test. Admitting this, the government is quoted as saying:
As things stand, the main use case for vaccine passports is to expedite foreign travel. It’s unclear if the use of the passport will be extended to other areas of society such as going to the cinema or sports venues but as those begin to open up the issue will have to be addressed.
Microsoft delivers oxygen, ventilators, and more to support India's COVID-19 response
by Anmol Mehrotra
Source: Microsoft India is currently battling a second wave of COVID-19 that has taken a toll on the country's healthcare infrastructure. With over 400,000 new cases every day, India has become a hotspot for the second wave of coronavirus.
Today, Microsoft announced that the company is stepping in to help India fight the battle with coronavirus. In a blog post, Kate Behncken, Vice President and Lead of Microsoft Philanthropies shared some of the ways in which Microsoft is helping India with essential supplies and tech support. Microsoft also took this opportunity to announce Global Task Force on Pandemic Response. The task force includes Microsoft and a couple of other companies that will be assisting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. The Redmond giant notes that it will be focusing on India at the moment but plans to provide support to other countries as well.
As a part of the response, Microsoft has acquired 1,000 ventilators for hospitals in India. The company is also working with the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum to provide over 250,000 oxygen concentration devices to hospitals in India. Along with medical supplies, Microsoft has also raised over $3 million through Microsoft's employee giving program. These funds will be given to organisations working in India and include Oxfam India and UNICEF.
Lastly, Microsoft is also providing technological support to Indian government. The company is giving free access to Microsoft Teams to both commercial and government organisation. In addition to this, Microsoft has also activated the Microsoft Disaster Response Team and is coordinating with both government agencies and first responders to provide technological support.
Microsoft notes that this aid builds on the work it did last year that provided humanitarian aid, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), high-performance testing equipment including a mobile testing bus, and research support. The company is also working on solving the food insecurity problem caused by the disruption of livelihood.
By Jay Bonggolto
Google now lets you know when you need to quarantine in your destination area
by Jay Bonggolto
The COVID-19 pandemic has made traveling to places a bit difficult due to strict quarantine protocols. To help those who plan on making a trip soon, Google announced today a few updates to some of its services meant to provide users more details about travel restrictions in their destinations.
Google noted a spike in travel-related queries on its platform including searches for travel restrictions by country. Google Search already shows restriction advisories when you try to book a flight or hotel room. Today's update means the platform will let you know when there's a need for you to undergo quarantine when you arrive at your destination. You'll also get information about other health safety protocols like when you need to show your COVID test results or vaccination documents.
In addition, you can choose to receive an email notification when travel advisories or restrictions in certain places change. To do so, you can simply log in to your Google account and switch on “Receive an email if this guidance changes". You will then get alerts when your destination country or state in the U.S. lifts or minimizes its travel restriction.
Additionally, Google rolled out a makeover to the Explore tab in Google Travel. Previously, the portal would display flight prices for certain destinations. The updated experience now shows images of cities and national parks on the map. You can even filter your view according to what type of trip you'd like to have like outdoors or beaches. The new interface also features Travel mode for when you want to see only the cities with airports.
Finally, Google Maps will now suggest some pit stops for you ahead of time when you hit the road. The feature is available on Maps' desktop version and it'll recommend hotels, parks, campgrounds, and rest stops after you've entered your starting and final destination points. You can choose individual stops and then share your directions to your phone through text, email or the Maps app in order to navigate with your mobile device. Google will also let you edit or update your journey on the fly by swiping up on your phone.
Facebook gives $5 million to fund COVID-19 vaccines
by Paul Hill
Facebook has announced that it’s donating $5 million towards the Go Give One fundraising campaign established by the World Health Organization Foundation. The money will go towards the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) mechanism which is helping to distribute COVID-19 vaccines around the world equitably.
While increased vaccine production and increased funding to buy vaccines will help enormously to ensure that everyone can get a vaccine, there are still communities in wealthy countries that are resistant to getting a vaccine due to their perception of the vaccine or misinformation that they have heard about it from friends, family, or online.
To rectify the second issue, Facebook is partnering with organisations in areas that vaccines are becoming available to help reach out to those most affected by the coronavirus. In the United States, Facebook has is working with KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), BlackDoctor.org, and the National Academy of Medicine to promote content that features black doctors, nurses, and researchers answering questions about COVID-19 vaccines.
Facebook will also be helping AARP and Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health to run Spanish-language campaigns to inform and educate more people about COVID-19 vaccines.
In the UK, Facebook said it’s working with Dope Black Dads, the British Islamic Medical Association, and the Caribbean African Health Network to run campaigns that target the communities they work in. Earlier news reports revealed that ethnic minorities were more exposed to the coronavirus due to the jobs they do (unable to work from home) and the fact many more people from these groups are living in overcrowded housing. These groups of people have also been targeted by anti-vaccine messages online which is increasing hesitancy.
Hopefully, Facebook’s newly announced efforts will help to get more vaccines out to those communities which are hit hardest by the pandemic. If you’d like to donate to the Go Give One campaign, you can do so now.