Find out the week’s top mobile stories from around the world.

This week..  World Health Organization launches COVID-19 WhatsApp service, Pandemic spurs voice resurgence in US, 11 countries are now using people’s phones to track the coronavirus pandemic and more.

WHO Health Alert: World Health Organization launches COVID-19 WhatsApp service

Evening Standard

The World Health Organization has launched an instant messaging service with partners WhatsApp and Facebook to keep people informed and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dubbed the WHO Health Alert, the new messenger platform was developed in collaboration with mobile technology firm Praekelt.Org, using swift communications machine learning technology developed by Turn.

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Pandemic spurs voice resurgence in US

Mobile World Live

AT&T, Verizon and Sprint reported spikes in voice calls, as restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak resulted in people turning to more traditional methods of communication.

An AT&T representative told Mobile World Live voice calls on Sunday 22 March increased 44 per cent compared to a regular Sunday, while Wi-Fi calling jumped 88 per cent.

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Confronting Covid-19 with human data opens the door for a new commodity market

The National

The entire state of California just joined San Francisco and Silicon Valley in a ‘shelter at home’ order from the state’s governor. Restaurants, movie theatres and schools are just some of the parts of our everyday lives that must be temporarily interrupted to curb the spread of Covid-19.

While many Silicon Valley companies had previously institutionalised work from home policies, this shutdown will particularly impact those in the gig economy and part-time workers. Companies across the Bay Area are working together to see how technology can be used to combat the crisis and make sure Americans are ready to go back to work.

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11 countries are now using people’s phones to track the coronavirus pandemic, and it heralds a massive increase in surveillance

Business Insider

Governments across the world are galvanizing every surveillance tool at their disposal to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.  Countries have been quick to use the one tool almost all of us carry with us — our smartphones.

A new live index of ramped up security measures by Top10VPN details the countries which have already brought in measures to track the phones of coronavirus patients, ranging from anonymized aggregated data to monitor the movement of people more generally, to the tracking of individual suspected patients and their contacts, known as “contact tracing.”

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The UK could slow the spread of coronavirus using your phone

Wired

As the UK is put under lockdown, the race is on to create a phone app that can reduce the spread of coronavirus. Elsewhere in the world, apps and mobile network location data are already being used in various opt-in and mandatory systems, the hope being that they can potentially halt the pandemic in ways that traditional tracking methods may not.

Proposed in a paper by infectious disease experts from Oxford University’s Big Data Institute (BDI), the idea is that, if a sufficiently large number of people installed a dedicated Covid-19 contact tracing app on their phones, their movements could be tracked via GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth proximity sensing.

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Coronavirus: Mobile networks send ‘stay at home’ text

BBC

For the first time, all the UK’s mobile networks are sending out a government message to their customers with details of the new shutdown measures. The text reads: GOV.UK CORONAVIRUS ALERT. New rules in force now: you must stay at home. More info and exemptions at gov.uk/coronavirus Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.

Some customers have already received the message, while others are set to get it later in the day.

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Mobile phone industry explores worldwide tracking of users

Guardian

The mobile phone industry has explored the creation of a global data-sharing system that could track individuals around the world, as part of an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The Guardian has learned that a senior official at GSMA, an international standard-setting body for the mobile phone industry, held discussions with at least one company that is capable of tracking individuals globally through their mobile devices, and discussed the possible creation of a global data-sharing system.

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Intelligence Brief: How will Covid-19 impact 5G?

Mobile World Live

Covid-19 (coronavirus) is already having an impact on all of our lives.

Mobile technology will help to get us through this whether that be from supporting health services, allowing more people to work remotely or simply providing a link to the outside world for people self-isolating. That said, for the average consumer priorities have clearly changed. With the epicentre of the crisis now in Europe, many potential early adopters of the latest technologies will now need to concern themselves with their financial and personal wellbeing rather than the latest handset.

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Africa turns to mobile payments as a tool to curb COVID-19

Tech Crunch

Africa is using digital finance as a means to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Governments and startups on the continent are implementing measures to shift a greater volume of payment transactions toward mobile money and away from cash — which the World Health Organization flagged as a conduit for the spread of the coronavirus.

It’s an option facilitated by the boom in fintech that’s occurred in Africa over the last decade. By several estimates, the continent is home to the largest share of the world’s unbanked population and has a sizable number of underbanked consumers and SMEs.

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China’s Mobile Carriers Lose 21 Million Users as Virus Bites

Bloomberg

China’s wireless carriers are reporting drops in users as the coronavirus crisis cuts business activity, with China Mobile Ltd., the world’s largest carrier, reporting its first net decline since starting to report monthly data in 2000.

China Mobile subscriptions fell by more than 8 million over January and February, data on the company’s website show. China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd. subscribers fell by 7.8 million in the period, while China Telecom Corp. has said it lost 5.6 million users last month.

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