Google has confirmed that a website it was due to launch to inform people about the coronavirus outbreak will be delayed until later this week, following the disappointing launch of another site by one of its subsidiaries.
The delay follows the US president’s claims that 1,700 of the company’s engineers were working to stymie the spread of COVID-19, which has infected more than 4,600 people in the US.
Donald Trump himself tested negative for the coronavirus after coming into contact with an infected Brazilian official.
His announcement regarding Google’s engineering efforts was a shock to executives at Alphabet’s life sciences subsidiary Verily, the Washington Post reported, leading to an embarrassing website launch which Google has now seemingly distanced itself from.
The president’s comments in a press conference, seemingly referencing Verily’s tool to help people locate coronavirus testing facilities, did not mention that their tool was nowhere near close to launching and that its scope was much smaller than the national coverage he suggested.
When a pilot version of the Verily site was launched following the press conference, it only contained the locations of testing facilities in two counties near San Francisco.
But even for those sites it had issues – it told people with symptoms of COVID-19 that they were ineligible for screening.
More from Covid-19
Coronavirus: O2 network goes down as people work from home
Coronavirus: ‘Rising sense of panic’ in schools over pandemic, union warns
Coronavirus: Warning over ibuprofen’s effect on COVID-19 sparks debate
Coronavirus: Son finds way around lockdown to talk to elderly dad
Coronavirus: what the new government advice means for your family
Coronavirus: VW prepares to close factories due to spread of infection
It also required those taking part to sign in to their Google accounts and authorise the company to use their data, despite Verily’s promises not to link their data with their Google account.
Coronavirus: Key questions answered – and what you need to know.
And then, within hours of launching, the website said it had reached capacity and could not schedule any more appointments for testing.
This underscored “how tech companies have been forced to improvise to stay in Trump’s good graces”, according to The Washington Post.
And the confusion prompted by the president’s statement was added to when Google confirmed the launch of its own website, apparently distinct from Verily’s, had been delayed until later this week.
The company’s chief executive Sundar Pichai said it was working with the US government to develop “a website dedicated to COVID-19 education, prevention, and local resources nationwide”.
Mr Pichai’s statement followed the president claiming that “the head of Google” had called him to apologise for the delays.
A spokeswoman for Verily told The Washington Post that the company’s work “goes beyond establishing a screening and risk assessment tool” adding that “three sample collection sites” had been opened in the Bay Area too.
Eventually this information would be available nationwide, she claimed, although did not offer a timeline.
Americans have now been told to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people, as the president warned there are now just 15 days to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Mr Trump also said that that young people needed to play their part as they could end up spreading the virus unknowingly.
Other measures include asking people to stop eating in bars and restaurants – and for parents to teach children at home rather than send them to school.