Amazon assembles team of boffins, devs, project managers and more to figure out mass coronavirus testing

Jeff Bezos imagines the negatives can go out to work and spend, the infected can watch more Amazon Prime Video at home

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has called for a coronavirus testing blitz to help the global economy reopen and has assembled a team to try to make it happen.

In his annual letter to Amazon shareholders, posted today, Bezos said that a massive uptick in testing could "help keep people safe and help get the economy back up and running".

"For this to work, we as a society would need vastly more testing capacity than is currently available," he wrote. "If every person could be tested regularly, it would make a huge difference in how we fight this virus. Those who test positive could be quarantined and cared for, and everyone who tests negative could re-enter the economy with confidence."

Bezos is putting his money where his mouth is (not that the world's richest man, valued at $139.4bn, worries about such things). He says Amazon will soon start regularly testing its staff, including those who are show no symptoms. The company has already set up a dedicated team, including research scientists, project managers, procurement specialists, and software engineers, to improve the company's testing capacity.

"We have begun assembling the equipment we need to build our first lab and hope to start testing small numbers of our frontline employees soon. We are not sure how far we will get in the relevant time frame, but we think it's worth trying, and we stand ready to share anything we learn," he wrote.

Bezos's advice comes as Amazon tries to contain the virus within its own logistic operations. More than 50 of Amazon's locations across the US have confirmed cases of the virus, with several sites reporting multiple positives. The problem has affected other countries as well. Yesterday, a French government forced the company to shutter its six warehouses in the country, citing concerns about the health of workers.

The virus has also been good to Amazon as surging demand has seen it add 175,000 jobs to handle deliveries to those who sensibly choose not to go shopping. It has also launched a $25m relief fund to support employees and contractors who contract the virus – roughly 15 per cent of the $165m Bezos reportedly paid for a house in February.

In his letter, Bezos also touts that the Seattle-based e-retailer has temporarily increased its minimum wage to $17 per hour and doubled overtime pay through the end of April. Workers will also have unlimited time off and receive two weeks of paid leave if they test positive for the virus or are in quarantine.

Despite these changes, many of the workers on the front lines remain some of the lowest paid in the country. Last week, Amazon and Whole Foods workers staged walkouts at multiple facilities, demanding better protective gear and higher pay. Many worry that the infamously poor working conditions of the company's warehouses put them at risk of catching the virus.

The company has been pilloried for firing several employees who openly crticised the company's warehouse conditions. Amazon says the employees were fired for repeatedly violating the company's pandemic rules.

At the same time, the company is one of the few doing well under the pandemic. The company's stocks are up 24 per cent this years, reaching an all-time high if $1.15tr as a surge of home-bound customers use its services.

Cloudy concerns

The letter also comments on Amazon Web Services and notes it's been adopted by Coronavirus researchers.

Bezos also wrote: "AWS has been successful in increasing the energy efficiency of its facilities and equipment, for instance by using more efficient evaporative cooling in certain data centers instead of traditional air conditioning," Bezos wrote. "Along with our use of renewable energy, these factors enable AWS to do the same tasks as traditional data centers with an 88% lower carbon footprint. And don’t think we’re not going to get those last 12 points—we’ll make AWS 100% carbon free through more investments in renewable energy projects." ®

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