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How Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Is Stepping Up His Efforts to Aid the Coronavirus Fight

Jeff Bezos wants to help the World Health Organization in its fight against the novel coronavirus.

In an Instagram post yesterday, the Amazon founder and CEO shared that he was recently involved in a video call with WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to explore ways to provide COVID-19 testing kits amid the pandemic. (Coronavirus has now infected more than 566,000 people around the globe.)

According to the billionaire executive, Amazon’s work with the United Nations health agency includes providing logistics support as well as improving “capacity and security” for the WHO website.

“We also discussed the urgent need for collective action to produce and distribute plentiful COVID-19 test kits,” Bezos added. “A surplus of fast, effective, easy-to-access test kits would flatten the curve and protect people around the world. I told Dr. Tedros we will continue to help WHO in every way we can in the coming weeks and months.”

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Good call with @WHO Director-General @DrTedros today on the global response to #COVID19 and the ways @Amazon and @AmazonWebServices are helping their efforts. Our current work with WHO includes: increasing capacity and security for the WHO website; providing ML & AI for WHO’s Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources initiative; assisting with the translation and transcription of WHO’s knowledge catalogue; providing logistics support. We also discussed the urgent need for collective action to produce and distribute plentiful COVID-19 test kits. A surplus of fast, effective, easy-to-access test kits would flatten the curve and protect people around the world. I told Dr. Tedros we will continue to help WHO in every way we can in the coming weeks and months.

A post shared by Jeff Bezos (@jeffbezos) on

On its Day One blog, the retail giant added that Amazon Web Services, its cloud computing platform, is supplying WHO with advanced technologies and technical expertise, including rapidly translating medical training videos into different languages.

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Amazon has already pledged to donate more than 250,000 critical supplies — such as linens, towels, canned goods and its own devices — to patients in quarantine or recovering from COVID-19 across its hometown of Seattle. It also provided $1 million to kickstart emergency coronavirus response efforts in the Washington, D.C., area. Those funds benefit four major foundations supporting vulnerable populations, including hourly workers and the elderly.

What’s more, the retailer launched last week the AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative, committing an initial investment of $20 million to accelerate research and development to speed up the understanding and detection of the coronavirus. (Accredited research institutions and private entities are encouraged to apply for the program.)

“This isn’t business as usual, and it’s a time of great stress and uncertainty. It’s also a moment in time when the work we’re doing is its most critical,” Bezos wrote in a letter to employees on March 21. “People are depending on us.”

As its chief ramps up his efforts to aid in the coronavirus fight, both Amazon and its founder have experienced backlash stemming from several steps Bezos and the firm’s executive team have taken amid the crisis.

This week, the retailer took heat for seemingly asking the public to provide donations for a relief fund it established to help contract and seasonal workers facing financial hardships during the outbreak. Amazon said it would grant a $25 million initial contribution and encouraged customers, according to multiple media reports, to “make a voluntary donation to the fund if you desire to do so.” (It has since removed such phrasing from the site.)

In addition, 15 attorneys general from states including New York, California, Washington and Pennsylvania sent a letter two days ago asking the company to “adopt a more generous paid leave policy” for its workers and independent contractors as well as for employees of its subsidiary Whole Foods.

As an essential retailer, Amazon is still open for business — even in states that have imposed the most stringent coronavirus-related restrictions. The company, which has seen a boost in demand as panicked shoppers stock up on necessities and household products, currently offers two weeks of paid sick leave to employees who test positive for COVID-19 or are placed under quarantine. Following the 14-day period, workers can take additional leave without pay through the end of April.

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