The latest news and insight on how the technology sector is reacting to Covid-19.
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Health app pivots to mapping Covid-19 symptoms across UK
NHS-assured health and wellbeing app Evergreen Life has mapped the prevalence of Covid-19 symptoms across the UK using user data. The app was built to allow users to download their medical records, access NHS services, and record medical data like blood pressure.
Using data submitted by users, the app’s creators have developed a heat map of people with Covid-19 symptoms in the UK. The company says that population data could provide important insights into the spread of the virus, and through the use of AI, could make it possible to predict how it will spread in the future.
The 750,000 users of the app are asked to report if they are self-isolating and if they have a dry cough or a temperature. The information is then anonymised. Users will also be asked to report when they recover. The initial data is based on 6,573 responses from Evergreen Life app users, and the company has urged more people to download the app in order to create an even more accurate and comprehensive picture of how and where the virus is spreading.
London university launches new virus tracker and studies twins to understand Covid-19
King’s College London has also developed an app to track symptoms of coronavirus across the UK. The app allows users to self-report, daily. The free coronavirus monitoring app has been developed as a partnership between the university’s researchers and its spin-out health data science company ZOE.
The university has combined this research with the TwinsUK cohort study, which monitors identical and non-identical twins. The university said that any of the twin participants who show signs of Covid-19 will be delivered a home testing kit to better understand what symptoms actually correspond to the coronavirus infection. (The general public will use the app, but without the home testing kit available to the twins enrolled on the study).
The university said that comparing genetically identical twins with non-identical twins, who are as related as regular siblings, will help researchers to separate the effects of genes from environmental factors like diet, previous illnesses and infections, lifestyle, and the microbes within the gut.
Healthcare robots in the works
Artificial intelligence and robotics experts in Edinburgh are working to create what they hope will be the first healthcare robots to hold a conversation with more than one person at a time.
The project is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020, and aims to develop robots that can deal with multiple people in social situations (unlike, for example, an Alexa or Siri which can only speak to one person at a time).
Work has begun, but the project is scheduled to take four years.
Supermarkets tackle online shopping onslaught
British supermarkets are planning to introduce measures to persuade customers who are not at a heightened risk of developing a serious illness to shop in stores rather than online. This is part of a wider effort to ensure that those who need to visit them for essential supplies have a minimal chance of contracting or transmitting coronavirus.
In a letter to customers, Tesco's chief executive, Dave Lewis, said the company will introduce floor markings in car parks and stores to allow customers to maintain a "safe distance" from each other when queueing to enter shops and while waiting to pay. Marks & Spencer and Waitrose have also deployed staff to man the entrances of their stores.
In a letter to its customers, Sainsbury's chief executive, Mike Coupe, said the company would be limiting the number of people allowed in stores and was introducing a queueing system. It comes after supermarket websites were overwhelmed by a flood of orders.
Customers going on to the Ocado website to secure a delivery were told they were in a queue of more than 12,000 people and it would take “more than four hours” of holding before being able to make an order. Tesco said it is at full capacity for “the next few weeks” and had to cancel “a very small proportion of online deliveries”, offering click and collect instead. Sainsbury’s said online demand was extremely high and Asda said it is working hard to make more online shopping slots available.