Health and Healthcare Systems

How big business is joining the fight against COVID-19

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg looks at Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma as Ma gestures during the China Development Forum in Beijing, China, March 19, 2016. REUTERS/Shu Zhang Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly

Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook and Jack Ma, of the Alibaba group, have both made pledges to help combat the virus. Image: REUTERS/Shu Zhang

Sean Fleming
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COVID-19

This article was updated on 23 March.

  • There are now more than 350,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide.
  • From Alibaba to Amazon, big names in the world of business are helping in the fight against COVID-19.
  • Some are sending medical help, others are donating cash.
  • Amazon has said it will stop sending non-essential products to customers in Italy and France.

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 coronavirus cases continues to rise, exceeding 350,000 on 23 March, something else is starting to happen around the world – entrepreneurs, businesses and multimillionaire philanthropists are pledging their support.

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Some are augmenting the work of public bodies, while others are filling gaps that might otherwise have been left unfilled. Here is a round-up of some of the activities and initiatives undertaken by private-sector organizations that are helping to combat the coronavirus.

Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly
Confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide. Image: Statista/WHO

Alibaba

So far, African countries have recorded low rates of coronavirus infection. But Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, is taking no chances; through his foundation, he is donating 1.1 million testing kits, 6 million masks, and 60,000 protective suits and face shields. They are all being sent to Ethiopia first, from where they will be sent out to every other country on the African continent.

“As members of the global community, it will be irresponsible of us to sit on the fence, panic, ignore facts or fail to act. We need to take action now,” he said.

This isn’t the first time during the crisis that China has sent help to other parts of the world. Earlier in the month, the Chinese Red Cross sent a team of nine medical staff and 30 tonnes of equipment, including masks and respirators, to Italy.

Distilleries and breweries

Distilleries in the US and Europe were reportedly adding hand sanitizer to their usual product ranges of rum and whiskey.

The owner and founder of 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company in Vail, Colorado said they were planning to start handing it out for free to people who drive by the distillery.

While Scottish brewery BrewDog has also gone into production on hand sanitizer, among other Scottish distilleries doing the same, and French drinks company Pernod Ricard was donating pure alcohol.

US tech giants Amazon, Microsoft and more

Some of the biggest US tech firms have also stepped up in the effort to cope with coronavirus. Amazon has said it will donate $5 million to local businesses based near its Seattle headquarters that will likely lose out on sales now that the tech giant’s thousands of staff are working from home.

Together with Microsoft, Amazon is also one of the co-creators of the COVID-19 Response Fund, targeting hard-hit Washington State. They, and other businesses such as Alaska Airlines and the Starbucks Foundation, have donated $2.5 million so far. Microsoft President Brad Smith said: “As large corporations, we can take this step and should. But not all businesses will be able to do so. As our community focuses on public health needs during the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s important that we also rally together to address the unmet economic needs developing around us.”

The two tech giants have also said they will continue to pay the wages of workers employed to deliver services to their office campuses – people who cannot work from home and might therefore lose out financially.

Moreover, Amazon on 21 March said it would stop shipping non-essential products to customers in Italy and France, where coronavirus cases have continued to soar.

Facebook has said it will donate $20 million to support coronavirus relief efforts, while Apple is committing $15 million.

Pharma giant Roche

Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche has started shipping coronavirus tests to the US and plans to get at least 400,000 out every week. Its fully automated tests are capable of delivering up to 960 sets of results every eight hours using one of its powerful analysis machines.

The test kits are destined for around 30 labs that have a broad geographic reach and high patient impact. “We do have to prioritize testing because there is simply not enough capacity for broad-based testing,” Roche CEO Severin Schwan said in an interview with Bloomberg.

Manufacturers like Ford and Dyson

In the UK, the government has turned to some of the country's biggest industrial names, including Rolls Royce and the electronics manufacturer Dyson. They are being called upon to start producing life-saving ventilators. On 16 March, the UK's health secretary, Matt Hancock, even issued an appeal via Twitter: "Calling all manufacturers who can support our National Effort for #coronavirus ventilator production - to help, contact Government Business Support team."

Vauxhall answered the call, offering to assemble ventilators and ventilator components using 3-D printers at its plant in England, after it stopped production due to falling demand.

In the US, General Motors Co. and Ford Motors Co. were examining whether they could also put their idled factories to work making medical equipment.

LVMH

French luxury powerhouse LVMH, which owns Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, TAG Heuer, Tiffany, Dom Pérignon and many other high-end brands, has now ventured into the hand-sanitizer sector. Factories that usually produce perfume and make-up for brands like Christian Dior and Givenchy are being pressed into service to fight COVID-19.

“LVMH will use the production lines of its perfume and cosmetic brands... to produce large quantities of hydroalcoholic gels,” the company said in a statement.

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