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NHS COVID-19 app hobbled to reduce number of ‘pings'
by Paul Hill
The UK government has announced changes to the underpinning logic of the NHS COVID-19 app used for contact tracing in England and Wales. Over the past few weeks, more than half a million people were told to isolate themselves via the app as it arrested a new wave of the coronavirus. With so many people being asked to isolate, causing absences from work, the media widely treated the app as the problem and called the incident a ‘pingdemic’.
Responding to criticism, the government has now updated the app so that fewer people will be asked to isolate. As things stood, for people who test positive for COVID-19 but were asymptomatic the app looked for close contacts from the last five days and warned those users to isolate. This has now been changed so that only contacts from the last two days will be asked to isolate.
While the update will reduce the number of people being pinged, it won’t change the sensitivity of the app or the risk threshold. The government also assures us that the same number of high-risk contacts will be advised to self-isolate.
Commenting on the development, Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said:
The change comes despite a new analysis that found in the first three weeks of July when cases were rising exponentially, the app managed to avert 2,000 cases per day and over 50,000 cases including chains of transmission assuming a 60% compliance with instructions to self-isolate. It’s estimated that during this period, the app kept 1,600 people out of hospital.
Despite criticism of the app, usage remains high with around 40% of the eligible population continuing to use the app regularly. Around half of all reported tests were submitted through the app too. Although it has reduced the number of pings being sent out, the government strongly advises people to continue using the app even if they’ve received both vaccine jabs as they can still spread the virus to others who can’t get jabbed.
By Fiza Ali
Apple removes Unjected, a dating app for the unvaccinated, over anti-vax content
by Fiza Ali
Apple has removed a hybrid social and dating app for the unvaccinated, Unjected, saying that it referenced the themes and concepts of the COVID-19 pandemic "inappropriately". Unjected describes itself as a platform that provides users space where they can match with other users who support "medical autonomy and free speech". The founders of the dating app are also involved in a conflict with Google regarding their Android app.
The site reportedly contained false claims that vaccines produced for COVID-19 have the potential to serve as bio-weapons, connect to 5G, and modify genes. Google sent Unjected a notice on the 16th of July to remove false claims and misleading information from the site within two weeks to prevent a Play Store ban. Upon this notice, the developers removed the social feed but Shelby Thompson, co-creator of the app, stated that Unjected would restore both the false claims and the feed, and will not comply with the request.
The app also has an account on Instagram where it supports its perspective on freedom and does not refrain from propagating misleading posts like claiming that mRNA vaccines alter DNA in spite of Instagram's anti-misinformation stance.
Apple and Google have made it clear through their crackdown that they won't permit apps that allow anti-vax content. The former also claimed that the app encouraged its users to utilize shady tactics to avoid Apple's regulations, and that is also reason enough to ban Unjected from the App Store.
Source: Bloomberg (paywall) via Engadget
By Jay Bonggolto
Apple is reportedly asking for vaccination status of employees in some locations
by Jay Bonggolto
Many of Apple's employees outside of China switched to remote work arrangements in March of last year when COVID-19 kicked in, forcing everyone to observe social distancing in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. The company also recently delayed its plan to resume office-based setup for employees amid the growing number of Delta variant cases, as per The New York Times.
Now, Apple is said to be looking into the vaccination status of its employees. The Verge reporter Zoë Schiffer has said on Twitter that the firm is asking its employees in specific locations whether they have been inoculated.
The report stems from supposed guidance coming from Apple that states:
Those that refuse to share their vaccination status will be presumed "unvaccinated". Schiffer noted that Apple would implement "additional health and safety protocols" for on-site employees who are not yet fully vaccinated.
Earlier this year, the Cupertino-based firm offered paid time off for employees who would agree to get full vaccination as a part of an effort to encourage them to get the vaccine. Other companies like Google, on the other hand, are requiring employees to get fully vaccinated before they can transition back to the office environments. It's not clear, however, whether Apple would demand the same from its employees.
Google.org announces $2.5 million for Southeast Asia COVID-19 response
by Paul Hill
Google has announced that its philanthropic arm, Google.org, has made a $2.5 million grant to UNICEF and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to assist countries in Southeast Asia recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the recipients of the grant will be Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Pakistan.
According to Google, the money will go to providing critical, life-saving support for the people who need it most. It is also providing a further $5 million in ad grants so that local government agencies and organisations such as UNICEF can run information campaigns to ensure the populations of these countries can get accurate information about the disease.
Unlike countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, many of the countries receiving these funds have not yet vaccinated large sections of the population. According to Our World in Data, 55.4% and 48.91% of people (including children) in the UK and U.S. are fully vaccinated while the countries receiving the money have fully vaccinated populations of between just 0.51% and 18.86% so people are still ending up in hospitals with more serious conditions.
Explaining the company’s plans going forward Stephanie Davis, Vice President, Southeast Asia, Google, said:
People that want to chip into the global COVID-19 vaccination effort can do so through the WHO Foundation’s Go Give One campaign. Donations can be made from most countries around the world and money raised goes to a fund called COVAX AMC which buys and equitably distributes vaccines to recipient countries – mostly those which are low and middle income and would otherwise struggle to secure vaccines for their populations.
Google delays its plans to re-open offices, will require employees to get vaccinated
by Anmol Mehrotra
Today, Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent out an email to all the Google employees briefing them about the company's plans to re-open offices for employees.
In the email, Pichai said that the company plans to delay the return to offices to at least October 18, thanks to the recent spike in coronavirus cases due to the Delta variant. He also assured that the company will give ample notice to employees before opening offices in order to help them transition back to the office environment. Furthermore, the company noted that it plans to allow employees with special needs to apply for an exemption and work from home till the end of 2021.
Apart from that, Pichai also confirmed that the company plans to make vaccination mandatory for all Google employees returning to the campus. The company will roll out this policy to employees in the U.S. in the coming weeks with plans to expand it to other regions in the coming months. Pichai also noted that the company will not apply the policy until vaccines are readily available in the local area.
The search giant also plans to allow employees to apply for exemption in case they cannot get vaccinated due to "medical or other protected reasons". The company will share more information about the exemption process in the future.
Lastly, Pichai also took this opportunity to announce that Google helped Gavi vaccinate over one million people in low-and middle-income countries globally.