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Mobile data shows which European countries took lockdown seriously

Mobile data shows which European countries took lockdown seriously

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A substantial part of humanity is slowly emerging from weeks of lockdown. What we have experienced is truly rare: a real global threat, menacing to all wherever we lived. But how did humanity respond to this pandemic? Did people consistently stay at home as most governments asked them to? And if they didn’t, where did they go?

We can answer these questions thanks to Google. It has released data on people’s movements gathered from millions of mobile devices that use its software (Android, Google Maps and so on). Never before has this level of detail been available. For infamous pandemics in history even basic facts are disputed (for example the number of deaths from the Black Death). The Google dataset seems to be of such quality that several scientific questions can finally be resolved.

Across Europe, the picture the data paints is varied. Some of the difference can be attributed to the lockdown strategies of different countries. But some, seemingly, cannot. This may be useful when considering future lockdowns.

How the data reveals behaviour

Google first divided where people spent their time into six location categories: homes; workplaces; parks; public transport stations; grocery shops and pharmacies; and retail and recreational locations.

It then released aggregated data on time spent at each of the six location types for the past several months, compared to a baseline: the five-week period between January 3 and February 6 2020. To the extent that no special events happened during this time, the change from the baseline after this reflects people’s collective response to the pandemic and the lockdowns.

Using the Google data, we then created the following graphs, comparing the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Greece between mid-February and early May. To get a smoother image, we calculated a seven-day moving average. Countries are also ranked and coloured in the graph legends according to their average reaction over the whole period (meaning a country’s colour can differ between graphs).

What were the differences between countries?

Let’s start with people staying at home.

For a good part of April, all these countries except for Sweden were officially in some form of lockdown, with measures in place banning non-essential movement. However, behaviour varied substantially.

Author provided

In Spain, Italy and France, time spent at home rose early in the pandemic by 30-35%. Even the most outdoorsy people must have stayed home for at least 10-12 hours before the lockdown, so this means at least three-to-five extra hours were spent at home per person – for most even more. This reflects these countries’ strict lockdowns: they banned all events, limited outdoor exercise, and in France’s case, required documentation to go outside.

Germany and Denmark were more relaxed; the rise in staying home was about 15%, reflecting their partial lockdowns. Sweden’s increase was even lower at 8-10%.

The UK was somewhere in between, reacting late but then strongly, with a rise of about 20-25%. The delay reflects its lockdown beginning later – on March 23 – though it is interesting that some people were already staying home before its lockdown began.

Greece is an interesting case, as it reacted relatively early and strongly, but started relaxing in late March, with a strong effect by mid-April, long before its non-essential movement measures were lifted on May 3. This might indicate that compliance is a matter of perceived risk. Greece kept its COVID-19 cases and deaths remarkably low, which may have caused people to relax.

The mix of how people spent their outdoor time also differed. For example, the next graph presents the park visit data.

Author provided

For most of April, Sweden, Denmark and Germany saw a rise in the time people spent in parks (including national and local parks, public gardens and beaches). At the same time, Italy and Spain saw 80% drops. Greece and the UK are again somewhere in the middle, seeing a drop initially but coming back to the benchmark in early May. In Greece’s case we actually see a rise of almost 50% lately compared to the benchmark – again suggesting that fatigue may have set in, in combination with good weather and a lack of perceived risk.

Germany’s park visit data is further evidence that lockdown measures do not fully determine behaviour, and that people have their own motives. Its graph line is somewhat similar to Denmark’s and Sweden’s, countries with less strict official policies; the country with the most similar policy on going outdoors was the UK, whose line shows a decrease instead of an increase.

Author provided

Lastly, let us look at time spent at workplaces. Again, in some countries people were going to work almost as much as before, while in others there were drops of 70-80%. Spain and Italy banned all non-essential work – a measure that went beyond the restrictions of all other countries – so it is not a surprise to see these at the bottom of the graph. We can see, though, the effect of Spain allowing some sectors to open up again on April 14.

What should we do with this data?

Behavioural fatigue, a much-maligned term during the UK government’s handling of the crisis, is now an issue that can be discussed properly. While lockdown measures were still in place, people around Europe started leaving their homes more. It’s clear that adherence to lockdown decreased over time.

Governments now need to investigate whether this affected the spread of disease. Is staying at home a solution? And if people do not stay at home, does it matter where they go? Answering these questions might allow governments to design an optimal lockdown policy mix that, say, allows people to go to parks, but not mingle in shops and railway stations.

As the threat of the virus is not eliminated, and second waves are expected around the world, gaining these answers will be very important.

Sotiris Georganas does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Hyro secures $20M for its AI-powered, healthcare-focused conversational platform

Israel Krush and Rom Cohen first met in an AI course at Cornell Tech, where they bonded over a shared desire to apply AI voice technologies to the healthcare…

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Israel Krush and Rom Cohen first met in an AI course at Cornell Tech, where they bonded over a shared desire to apply AI voice technologies to the healthcare sector. Specifically, they sought to automate the routine messages and calls that often lead to administrative burnout, like calls about scheduling, prescription refills and searching through physician directories.

Several years after graduating, Krush and Cohen productized their ideas with Hyro, which uses AI to facilitate text and voice conversations across the web, call centers and apps between healthcare organizations and their clients. Hyro today announced that it raised $20 million in a Series B round led by Liberty Mutual, Macquarie Capital and Black Opal, bringing the startup’s total raised to $35 million.

Krush says that the new cash will be put toward expanding Hyro’s go-to-market teams and R&D.

“When we searched for a domain that would benefit from transforming these technologies most, we discovered and validated that healthcare, with staffing shortages and antiquated processes, had the greatest need and pain points, and have continued to focus on this particular vertical,” Krush told TechCrunch in an email interview.

To Krush’s point, the healthcare industry faces a major staffing shortfall, exacerbated by the logistical complications that arose during the pandemic. In a recent interview with Keona Health, Halee Fischer-Wright, CEO of Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), said that MGMA’s heard that 88% of medical practices have had difficulties recruiting front-of-office staff over the last year. By another estimates, the healthcare field has lost 20% of its workforce.

Hyro doesn’t attempt to replace staffers. But it does inject automation into the equation. The platform is essentially a drop-in replacement for traditional IVR systems, handling calls and texts automatically using conversational AI.

Hyro can answer common questions and handle tasks like booking or rescheduling an appointment, providing engagement and conversion metrics on the backend as it does so.

Plenty of platforms do — or at least claim to. See RedRoute, a voice-based conversational AI startup that delivers an “Alexa-like” customer service experience over the phone. Elsewhere, there’s Omilia, which provides a conversational solution that works on all platforms (e.g. phone, web chat, social networks, SMS and more) and integrates with existing customer support systems.

But Krush claims that Hyro is differentiated. For one, he says, it offers an AI-powered search feature that scrapes up-to-date information from a customer’s website — ostensibly preventing wrong answers to questions (a notorious problem with text-generating AI). Hyro also boasts “smart routing,” which enables it to “intelligently” decide whether to complete a task automatically, send a link to self-serve via SMS or route a request to the right department.

A bot created using Hyro’s development tools. Image Credits: Hyro

“Our AI assistants have been used by tens of millions of patients, automating conversations on various channels,” Krush said. “Hyro creates a feedback loop by identifying missing knowledge gaps, basically mimicking the operations of a call center agent. It also shows within a conversation exactly how the AI assistant deduced the correct response to a patient or customer query, meaning that if incorrect answers were given, an enterprise can understand exactly which piece of content or dataset is labeled incorrectly and fix accordingly.”

Of course, no technology’s perfect, and Hyro’s likely isn’t an exception to the rule. But the startup’s sales pitch was enough to win over dozens of healthcare networks, providers and hospitals as clients, including Weill Cornell Medicine. Annual recurring revenue has doubled since Hyro went to market in 2019, Krush claims.

Hyro’s future plans entail expanding to industries adjacent to healthcare, including real estate and the public sector, as well as rounding out the platform with more customization options, business optimization recommendations and “variety” in the AI skills that Hyro supports.

“The pandemic expedited digital transformation for healthcare and made the problems we’re solving very clear and obvious (e.g. the spike in calls surrounding information, access to testing, etc.),” Krush said. “We were one of the first to offer a COVID-19 virtual assistant that deployed in under 48 hours based on trusted information from the health system and trusted resources such as the CDC and World Health Organization …. Hyro is well funded, with good growth and momentum, and we’ve always managed a responsible budget, so we’re actually looking to expand and gather more market share while competitors are slowing down.”

Hyro secures $20M for its AI-powered, healthcare-focused conversational platform by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

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Burger King Adds a Failed McDonald’s Comfort-Food Menu Item

Both companies have tried to make this beloved southern staple work, and Burger King is trying again with multiple new versions.

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Fast-food burger chains deal in the familiar. 

They sell comfort food, meals that make their customers feel good (even if that feeling soon enough turns to regret).

When one of the big three chains -- McDonald's, Wendy's (WEN) - Get Free Report, and Burger King -- adds a new menu item, it's either something outrageous designed to get publicity or an item that builds on the comfort-food model.

DON'T MISS: Unique McDonald's Sandwich Makes Its Menu Return

That's why so many fast-food innovations arise from taking a core menu item and give it a small twist. Wendy's does this more than any other chain as it rotates in different takes on cheese fries and new burgers that add well-known flavors like pretzel buns or more bacon.

McDonald's (MCD) - Get Free Report has been experimenting with similar ideas -- specifically trying to make southern classics like sweet tea and chicken biscuits -- work. The chain has had more success with sweet tea, which has become a menu staple, than it has with making chicken biscuits a morning staple.

And while McDonald's has tried to add southern style chicken biscuits to its morning menu without sustained success, that has not stopped its rivals from taking their own shot at the regional favorite. 

Wendy's has offered its Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit since it brought back its breakfast menu in 2020. And now Restaurant Brands International's (QSR) - Get Free Report Burger King has decided to add multiple takes on a chicken biscuit to its morning menu.

Wendy's also sold a "hot" version of its Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit.

Image source: Wendy's.

Burger King Adds Multiple Chicken Biscuits  

Burger King has built its morning menu around meat. The chain sells versions of its famed Croissan'Wich with double sausage, one with bacon, ham, and sausage, and similar offerings on biscuits.

Now, Burger King has been testing adding chicken to its meaty morning lineup.

Some of the chain's locations already sell a regular Chicken Biscuit and a Smoky Maple Chicken Croissan’wich (although those items are not being sold nationwide) and now it's testing a new take on a chicken biscuit in select markets.

"The Smoky Maple Chicken Biscuit features breaded white meat chicken with a smoky maple glaze on a warm buttermilk biscuit. It will be available through Aug. 31 while supplies last," according to Restaurant Business Online.

Burger King is offering the Smoky Maple Chicken Biscuit only in the Kansas City and Orlando-Daytona Beach markets.

McDonald's Also Bets On Breakfast Comfort Food 

McDonald's first put bagels on its breakfast menu in 1999. They were removed in January 2022 when the chain eliminated all-day breakfast and slimmed down its morning menu due to the covid pandemic.

Losing the bagels wasn't just about customers getting one less bread choice for their breakfast sandwich. It also invvolved McDonald's removing steak -- a meat that was only sold on a bagel -- from its morning menu.

Now, after a slow rollout across the country, McDonald's has returned its popular breakfast bagels to menus nationwide (albeit without making an official announcement).

Fans clamored for the return on social media in April 2022, when McDonald's Tweeted "Bring back ____." Tens of thousands of fans answered the query and the Breakfast Bagels were a popular request.

The most-requested item, the Snack Wrap, has not been returned and might not despite customer interest because making them adds complexity to the chain's kitchen operations. 

That's something the company has been working against as it works to streamline delivery and digital sales.         

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Hyro secures $30M for its AI-powered, healthcare-focused conversational platform

Israel Krush and Rom Cohen first met in an AI course at Cornell Tech, where they bonded over a shared desire to apply AI voice technologies to the healthcare…

Published

on

Israel Krush and Rom Cohen first met in an AI course at Cornell Tech, where they bonded over a shared desire to apply AI voice technologies to the healthcare sector. Specifically, they sought to automate the routine messages and calls that often lead to administrative burnout, like calls about scheduling, prescription refills and searching through physician directories.

Several years after graduating, Krush and Cohen productized their ideas with Hyro, which uses AI to facilitate text and voice conversations across the web, call centers and apps between healthcare organizations and their clients. Hyro today announced that it raised $20 million in a Series B round led by Liberty Mutual, Macquarie Capital and Black Opal, bringing the startup’s total raised to $35 million.

Krush says that the new cash will be put toward expanding Hyro’s go-to-market teams and R&D.

“When we searched for a domain that would benefit from transforming these technologies most, we discovered and validated that healthcare, with staffing shortages and antiquated processes, had the greatest need and pain points, and have continued to focus on this particular vertical,” Krush told TechCrunch in an email interview.

To Krush’s point, the healthcare industry faces a major staffing shortfall, exacerbated by the logistical complications that arose during the pandemic. In a recent interview with Keona Health, Halee Fischer-Wright, CEO of Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), said that MGMA’s heard that 88% of medical practices have had difficulties recruiting front-of-office staff over the last year. By another estimates, the healthcare field has lost 20% of its workforce.

Hyro doesn’t attempt to replace staffers. But it does inject automation into the equation. The platform is essentially a drop-in replacement for traditional IVR systems, handling calls and texts automatically using conversational AI.

Hyro can answer common questions and handle tasks like booking or rescheduling an appointment, providing engagement and conversion metrics on the backend as it does so.

Plenty of platforms do — or at least claim to. See RedRoute, a voice-based conversational AI startup that delivers an “Alexa-like” customer service experience over the phone. Elsewhere, there’s Omilia, which provides a conversational solution that works on all platforms (e.g. phone, web chat, social networks, SMS and more) and integrates with existing customer support systems.

But Krush claims that Hyro is differentiated. For one, he says, it offers an AI-powered search feature that scrapes up-to-date information from a customer’s website — ostensibly preventing wrong answers to questions (a notorious problem with text-generating AI). Hyro also boasts “smart routing,” which enables it to “intelligently” decide whether to complete a task automatically, send a link to self-serve via SMS or route a request to the right department.

A bot created using Hyro’s development tools. Image Credits: Hyro

“Our AI assistants have been used by tens of millions of patients, automating conversations on various channels,” Krush said. “Hyro creates a feedback loop by identifying missing knowledge gaps, basically mimicking the operations of a call center agent. It also shows within a conversation exactly how the AI assistant deduced the correct response to a patient or customer query, meaning that if incorrect answers were given, an enterprise can understand exactly which piece of content or dataset is labeled incorrectly and fix accordingly.”

Of course, no technology’s perfect, and Hyro’s likely isn’t an exception to the rule. But the startup’s sales pitch was enough to win over dozens of healthcare networks, providers and hospitals as clients, including Weill Cornell Medicine. Annual recurring revenue has doubled since Hyro went to market in 2019, Krush claims.

Hyro’s future plans entail expanding to industries adjacent to healthcare, including real estate and the public sector, as well as rounding out the platform with more customization options, business optimization recommendations and “variety” in the AI skills that Hyro supports.

“The pandemic expedited digital transformation for healthcare and made the problems we’re solving very clear and obvious (e.g. the spike in calls surrounding information, access to testing, etc.),” Krush said. “We were one of the first to offer a COVID-19 virtual assistant that deployed in under 48 hours based on trusted information from the health system and trusted resources such as the CDC and World Health Organization …. Hyro is well funded, with good growth and momentum, and we’ve always managed a responsible budget, so we’re actually looking to expand and gather more market share while competitors are slowing down.”

Hyro secures $30M for its AI-powered, healthcare-focused conversational platform by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

Read More

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