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Coronavirus weekly updates: Chinese tech companies come forward to help battle the epidemic

Written by Julianna Wu Published on 

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As of April 3, the virus has infected 82,804 people in total and caused 3,331 deaths in China. More than 76,000 patients have recovered from the disease.

March 28 – April 3 update: The situation has partially stabilized in China as the number of infected cases in Hubei province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, has dropped below 1,000 this week. Transportation, courier services, manufacturing, and other businesses across the province are slowing recovering.

However, as the coronavirus outbreak has swept across more than 200 countries and regions around the world, several Chinese companies have powered their healthcare platforms with bilingual services to launch global online consulting assistance, attracting users from overseas markets.

Meanwhile, tech companies across the country have rolled out AI-powered tools like smart glasses and infrared temperature testing system to keep the outbreak under control.

March 21-27 update: Tencent has set up a USD 100 million fund for global coronavirus control, while seven museums across the world have partnered with social e-commerce platform Pinduoduo to livestream tours and sell souvenirs online.

As different cities across China, such as Beijing, are still applying quarantine measures, smartphones and QR codes became even more indispensable tools, read more in our feature story of the week.

March 14-20 update: With efforts still underway to contain the COVID-19 disease, many industries have had to make fundamental changes to their operations, check out our video about how different industries have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

As the COVID-19 has propagated to the rest of the world, Chinese companies such as Alibaba, Xiaomi, and Oppo, have started to donate face masks and equipment to other countries. Also, Alibaba Cloud, the computing arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has opened its AI-powered coronavirus diagnosis system to global medical professionals for free.

On the other hand, Wuhan University, one of the most famous spots for cherry blossoms in China, will broadcast the bloom live on Taobao in partnership with Fliggy, Alibaba’s online travel platform. Even if new coronavirus cases have been decreasing, the city has remained under lockdown since January 23.

March 7-13 update: As the coronavirus continues to spread globally, Alibaba has started to offer online consultation for overseas Chinese via Alipay.

In China, the resumption of work in many cities has pushed the demand for face masks. Companies such as Gree Electric, the world’s largest aircon manufacturer, have started to sell not-for-profit masks, while some Chinese factory are livestreaming medical mask production—and people are tuning in.  To know more about how China tackled history’s biggest mask shortage, read our exclusive feature. 

March 2-6 update: The coronavirus outbreak has opened unprecedented opportunities for China’s online education market, as well as for collaboration platform services.

While more and more cities in China have recently reported zero new coronavirus cases, and people have started to get back to the office, face masks have become increasingly scarce. To answer the high demand, China has raised face masks’ production volume to 100 million a day, 10 times higher than a month ago. Also, in China’s tech hub Shenzhen, local authorities have been giving away 200,000 free masks per day through a lottery system since late February.

Alibaba has also shipped one million face masks to Japan, as a donation from the Alibaba Foundation and Jack Ma Foundation, as the island nation implements measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

February 22-28 update: Major Chinese firms including Tencent and Alibaba have made cash donations totaling more than RMB 5.5 billion (USD 800 million), in a bid to help China overcome the coronavirus crisis. As the coronavirus epidemic bears down on many industries in China, real-estate companies—who have found themselves especially hard-hit—have turned to online sales to generate more sales. Also, Wuhan-based snack brand Liangpin Puzi (known as Bestore in English) became the first company in China to go public with an online listing ceremony on Monday.

February 17-21 update:  Life in the country has changed considerably, and many citizens are relying on tech more than ever to work, study, and get through the day. Here’s an exclusive video about how life has changed in China since the outbreak, and how millions of people rely on tech companies to get by.

AI technologies are helping combat the coronavirus in China: A new AI-powered diagnosis system developed by Alibaba’s research institute Damo Academy promises to detect new coronavirus cases with an accuracy rate of up to 96% via computerized tomography (CT) scans. Meanwhile, ride-hailing giant Didi uses AI to detect if its drivers are wearing masks.

A controversial response to the outbreak by rental platform Danke led to dispute with landlords who use their service, which in turn exposed potential systemic risk in the industry. This triggered regulators in Shenzhen to investigate the financial practices in the online rental segment.

February 10-14 update: Alibaba announced on Monday that Taobao, Tmall, and its logistics arm Cainao have co-launched a RMB 1 billion (USD 143 million) fund to support logistics services and the supply chain, as the coronavirus has led to delays in e-commerce deliveries. Reportedly, some e-commerce services from Alibaba and JD.com are opting to hire part-time staff following a rising consumer demand for online grocery delivery services.

SEE ALSO: Video | Five technologies fighting the SARS-CoV-2 virus

Technology is helping to deliver supplies amid the epidemic: China’s largest private courier, SF Express, used drones to transport 70 kgs of medical supplies to a hospital in Wuhan, while JD.com completed its first drone delivery in northern China.

February 1-7 update: JD.com’s logistics arm delivered the first batch of goods to a hospital in Wuhan via its autonomous delivery robots. Chinese tech companies have launched an array of apps to help netizens tackle the coronavirus, while AI companies like Megvii and Baidu have introduced artificial intelligence-powered temperature screening systems.

The spread of coronavirus has also led to a proliferation of “contactless services” in China, while major tech companies are letting most of its employees working remotely, in what it has been dubbed as the “the world’s largest work from home experiment.” To entertain millions of Chinese forced to stay at home, Video platform Bilibili is holding a free online streaming concert featuring indie musicians and rock bands.

Huawei launched a remote diagnostics platform in Wuhan’s makeshift Huoshenshan hospital, and other companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent have opened their AI and cloud computing technologies to researchers for free. Also, Meituan and Alibaba’s Koubei have waived all commission fees to help merchants cope with the financial consequences of the epidemic.

January 30-31 update: The construction of new hospitals started in Wuhan to alleviate the heavy load of patients. On January 30, 50 million Chinese oversaw the work in progress of the new structures through live streaming.

The highly contagious virus, dubbed 2019-nCoV by the World Health Organization, has been sweeping rampantly across China since January. The outbreak coincided with the country’s Spring Festival travel season, often dubbed as the world’s largest migration. In an attempt to contain the spread of the disease, Beijing has placed Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, as well as other cities in the province of Hubei, under lockdown.

As medical personnel in China race to combat the coronavirus, Chinese tech firms are pitching in. Some have made donations, while others such as e-commerce platforms have banned price hikes for medical masks. Companies such as Tencent, Alibaba, and Baidu have even implemented teleworking measures to prevent the virus from spreading further.

The rapid spread of 2019-nCoV, which was reportedly first transmitted from wild animals to humans in a market that sold seafood and fresh meat in Wuhan, reminds many of the 2002–03 SARS pandemic that killed almost 800 people worldwide. This time around, the number of confirmed nCoV infections in China surpassed the number of SARS cases in less than a month.

This story has been updated to reflect further updates.

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