Chinese tech firms pledge millions to help fight Wuhan coronavirus as telemedicine services surge in popularity

Zen Soo

Chinese tech giants including search firm Baidu and food-delivery platform Meituan have pledged millions of yuan towards medical research, supplies and support for frontline health care workers in the battle against the coronavirus epidemic.

Baidu said on Sunday that it had established a 300 million yuan (US$43 million) epidemic and public health security fund to support efforts including screening and research and development (R&D) for cures of diseases such as the new coronavirus, as well as for longer-term efforts such as public health and safety information dissemination.

The company will also provide artificial intelligence technology as well as computing resources to assist in R&D efforts by research institutes and disease control agencies, according to a post on its official WeChat account. In addition, Baidu will provide big data and analytics technology to support detection, response and management of the epidemic.

Separately, Meituan set up a 200 million yuan fund dedicated to caring for the nation’s medical staff. Initially, it will focus on assisting medical staff in Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, with funds going toward medical resources, humanitarian help and ensuring that medical staff are supported in their daily lives.

The company has also opened an online donation channel on the Meituan app, allowing users to donate money towards efforts to fight the new virus.

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Other Meituan initiatives include providing 1,000 free takeaway meals every day for medical staff at hospitals in Wuhan and providing medical staff in China’s central Hubei province with free use of 300,000 shared bicycles. Hubei has been the worst-hit by the epidemic, with at least 15 cities put on lockdown as the virus spread outwards from the provincial capital of Wuhan.

The donations and support from the country’s tech giants come as China battles to contain the spread of the virus, which has so far caused some 80 deaths with 2,800 confirmed cases in the country.

As medical supplies become scarce in Wuhan and the other cities on lockdown, online health care firms have started offering services for free to affected patients.

Alibaba Health, Alibaba’s health care arm, has made its telemedicine services available to residents of Hubei, encouraging patients who have minor illnesses to consult online doctors for free as hospitals in the area feel the strain. Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

Hubei patients can access Alibaba Health’s online doctors via the Alipay and Taobao apps. As of midnight on January 26, the landing page had more than 400,000 visitors, with 97 per cent originating in Hubei province, and 64 per cent from Wuhan city.

Pingan Good Doctor, another online health care firm, on Sunday announced it was setting up an antivirus command centre, donating 10 million masks to provinces across the nation, adding that online consultations would be free of charge for all users in China.

Qihoo 360 has pledged to donate 15 million yuan in medical resources to Hubei province and Wuhan city while AI firm iFlyTek on Sunday said that it donated 10 million yuan and 500,000 yuan worth of medical supplies.

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