Final Fantasy 7 Remake review: The most ambitious Final Fantasy yet – CNET

Hello, old friend.

Square Enix

Final Fantasy 7 Remake lied to me.

This isn't Final Fantasy 7 remade. It's Final Fantasy 7 reimagined, and boldly at that. New characters and subplots are introduced within the first hour, and stylish real-time action replaces the turn-based combat the original was known for. 

Most ambitious, the Remake that hits store shelves on April 10 is not the entire Final Fantasy 7. It's part one of the saga, taking the 1997 original's first act and making a full game of it. 

This might sound like risky business if you're one of the 11 million people that played the PlayStation 1 classic. But the highest praise I can heap on this remake is that it'll please those of you who have waited almost 15 years to play it

If you're in that group, this review is of little consequence. You're going to buy the game no matter what. But what if you've never played the original? That's OK, this is a judgment-free zone. All you need to know is Final Fantasy 7 Remake looks stunning and feels satisfying. 

Either way, you need to play this game.

Now playing: Watch this: Final Fantasy 7 Remake is utterly spectacular

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Less is more

The boldest change from original to Remake is splitting one game into many. We don't know how many installments the Final Fantasy 7 story will be told over, though director Tetsuya Nomura said work on part two is already underway

Regardless, this is still a full-length Final Fantasy game; I dilly-dallied a little with side quests, and clocked the game in just under 40 hours. Yet it takes place entirely in Midgar. Fans of the original will be bummed to not see The Golden Saucer, Cosmo Canyon and other illustrious locales, but this is an example of less being more. 

Final Fantasy VII Remake is a dystopia for our times. It revolves around Shinra, a juggernaut electricity company that extracts life force (Mako) from the earth and turns it into energy. Doing so is slowly killing the planet. Sound familiar? Midgar itself is plagued by wealth inequality, split into two main sections separated by a massive plate: A suit-filled modern city on top and indigent slums below. 

You play as Cloud Strife, a former member of Shinra's "Soldier" military force. Now working as a mercenary, you team up with an eco-terrorist group called Avalanche. Disgusted by Shinra's avaricious destruction of the planet, Avalanche endeavors to teach Shinra a lesson -- by blowing up Mako reactors. Obviously. 

Story beats are similar to the original, but there are notable differences. That becomes evident in the second chapter, when you're confronted by the presence of mysterious, cloaked ghosts. (Think Dementors from Harry Potter.) More significant is the shift in framing. In 1997, this section ultimately served as a buildup for Sephiroth, the game's main villain, to steal the show. That's not the case here.

Sephiroth returns, but mostly takes a backseat to Shinra as the game's villain.

Square Enix

Spending the entire 40 hours in Midgar allows you to get to know several characters better. 2020 technology, including the best character models I've seen in a game, helps with this too. Wedge, a bit player in the original, becomes a more substantial, loveable character here, for instance. And story elements that were previously warm ups for Sephiroth now feel like more legitimate subplots. 

There's a tradeoff here. While Midgar, Shinra and Avalanche are worthy of the spotlight they receive, the narrow focus does diminish the epic scale of the original. Regardless, this feels like a thoughtful, substantial part of a larger story -- exactly what the first game in a series is meant to be. 

Once you adjust to thinking of Final Fantasy 7 as a franchise rather than a game, 7 Remake becomes a lot easier to understand. 

That's not to say there aren't problems. The pacing of the story is inconsistent, especially toward the end. There's contrived padding, too -- a few locked doors require a conspicuous amount of legwork to unlock, and one chapter is extended by 20 minutes because a rat steals a key at an inopportune time. Attempts to include Sephiroth-related story elements, which almost entirely occurred after Midgar in the original, are sometimes awkward. 

But despite these issues, the incredibly bold transition is almost entirely a successful one. 

New era, new combat

Final Fantasy 7 Remake's combat also successfully makes a bold transition. Square Enix has taken a title synonymous with turn-based combat and turned it into a fresh real-time action game. Yet there remains some turn-based flavor to stoke the nostalgia of those who played the original. 

You'll perform regular attacks like you would in a game like Devil May Cry or Kingdom Hearts. But when your Active Time Battle (ATB) gauge fills up -- which it'll do after you cause damage, take damage or block damage -- you can slow the battle to bullet time and cast magic, perform abilities, use items and more.

It's a rewarding and stylish combat system. At times you'll feel like the ultimate fiend hunter as you Rambo your way through a hoard. Other times you'll need to be far more strategic, slowing combat down at particular times to take advantage of attack patterns and enemy weaknesses.

Again, there are faults. The camera can be problematic. You'll often struggle to see enemies outside of your character's field of vision. Since most enemy attacks interrupt actions like healing and item use, this can be frustrating and sometimes makes battles feel driven by luck. 

The materia system -- magic orbs that slot into your weapons and armor, allowing you to use magic and other abilities -- feels a little out of place, too. The fast-paced action rewards attacks more so than strategy around casting buffs to your party or inflicting status ailments on enemies. As a result, you'll likely use a narrower variety of materia than in the original. 

Regardless, the developers did so much right here. The difficulty is just right, forcing you to strategize without punishing players too harshly. Boss battles are reliably exhilarating. And, like everything else in the game, the combat is visually marvelous.

As far as risky bets go, between combat and story, Square Enix goes two for two here.

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Wall Market. Bad things happen to good people here.

Square Enix

A love letter

Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a spectacle, easily one of the best-looking games I've ever played. But the man hours that went into it are evident beyond its technical prowess. It's not just how visually arresting the game is: The environments, from the neon Wall Market red light district to the sterile Mako reactors, are dense with detail and feel like they live and breathe. 

The cynic in me suspects Square Enix is splitting the game into multiple parts so they can enjoy multiple paydays. But it's hard to care when the first entry is so carefully and lovingly made. 

Like all major Final Fantasy releases, this game launches with questions about its legacy. Does it do justice to the original? Is it as good as previous groundbreaking games in the franchise? Was it worth the 15 year wait? The first two questions can only be answered in the coming years, depending largely on how well subsequent parts are crafted. The third question is a hard yes.

New or old fan, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is worth your $60 and then some. 

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This smart toilet recognizes your butt and analyzes poo for diseases – CNET

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Basic toilets seem extra boring after learning about an experimental smart toilet that detects health problems.

Taylor Martin/CNET

Going to the bathroom could end up relieving your health anxieties as well as your bladder. According to a new study, researchers have created a smart toilet that can analyze faeces and urine for various diseases and some forms of cancer. The experimental toilet can also identify the users by both their unique fingerprints and even anal prints. 

The researchers from Stanford University published their findings in a new study in Nature Biomedical Engineering science journal on Monday. Twenty-one participants tested the smart toilet over the course of several months.

"The smart toilet is the perfect way to harness a source of data that's typically ignored; and the user doesn't have to do anything differently," lead study researcher Sanjiv Gambhir said in a statement on Monday. 

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Here's a more detailed look at the defecation monitoring module of the toilet system that uses pressure sensors and video camera to collect data.

Sanjiv S. Gambhir/Nature Biomedical Engineering

The toilet used for the study was actually a basic toilet with high-tech motion-sensing tools attached inside the bowl. The toilet records video of the user's urine and feces, which are then processed by algorithms that can determine urine stream time and volume, as well as a stool sample's viscosity.

The experimental toilet also uses uranalysis strips to measure the urine's white blood cell count and detect levels of proteins that best determine if the user is healthy or suffering from bladder infections, cancers, diabetes or possible kidney failure.

The collected toilet data is stored in a cloud-based system for doctors to access later. 

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Here's a closer look at the schematic of the smart toilet system, including the analprint scan process.

Sanjiv S. Gambhir/Nature Biomedical Engineering

One of the more unusual features of this smart toilet includes a built-in identification system that reads the user's fingerprints on the toilet flush handle, and even weirder... an anus-recognition system.

"The whole point is to provide precise, individualized health feedback, so we needed to make sure the toilet could discern between users," Gambhir said. "We know it seems weird, but as it turns out, your anal print is unique."

The anal and fingerprint scans enable users to be matched to their specific data which comes in handy if more than one person is using the same smart toilet. While the toilet does take scans of the anal print, it does not share those images to the user's cloud or doctors. 

What's next? More participants in the study and the ability to integrate molecular features into stool analysis.

""That's a bit trickier," said Gambhir, "but we're working toward it."

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NFL to hold ‘fully virtual draft’ amid coronavirus shutdown – CNET

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has reportedly informed all 32 teams to be ready to conduct the 2020 player draft in a "fully virtual" format.

Rich Graessle/PPI/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

The NFL plans to hold its 2020 player draft in a "fully virtual" format later this month, with each team's personnel working remotely from their homes. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell informed all 32 teams in a memo on Monday obtained by the NFL Network. The move is in accordance with government orders to stay at home to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Team personnel should plan to use the internet and phones to communicate, he said. In addition to maintaining appropriate health practices, Goodell said the decision was also based on the need to be fair to all teams.

"All clubs will not have access to their facilities, which is contrary to the fundamental equity principle that all clubs operate in a consistent and fair way," Goodell said in the memo. "Our staff will carry out its responsibilities in the same way, operating in separate locations outside of our offices.

"We cannot identify an alternative that is preferable from a medical or public health perspective, given the various needs of clubs, the need properly to screen participants and the unique risk factors that individual club employees may face."

The new coronavirus causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. In March, the World Health Organization declared the virus outbreak a pandemic. As of Thursday, 1 million people worldwide have been infected and over 51,000 lives have been lost. The outbreak has caused cities and entire countries around the globe to issue lockdowns, shuttering stores and ordering citizens to stay at home to help contain the coronavirus.

It's also led to the cancellation or suspension of major sporting events around the globe. In US sports, we've seen the suspension of the NBA, NHL and MLS seasons, the postponement of the start of Major League Baseball and the cancellation of winter and spring NCAA championships, including the men's and women's March Madness college basketball tournaments. 

The NFL draft, originally planned to be held in Las Vegas, is slated for April 23 through 25. In mid-March, the NFL ordered teams to halt pre-draft visits with prospects at team facilities.

NFL offices have been closed since March 13, and team facilities have been closed since March 26. Goodell said facilities will reopen "when it is safe to do so" based on medical and public health advice, in compliance with government mandates.

The NFL couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

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Samsung’s preliminary Q1 results show how coronavirus is impacting tech – CNET

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Samsung's new Galaxy S20 lineup hit the market amid the global coronavirus outbreak. 

Angela Lang/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Samsung on Monday became one of the first tech companies to show how the novel coronavirus is impacting business. The company said its sales for the March quarter will rise from the previous year but won't be quite as strong as Wall Street anticipated.

Samsung said it expects to report first-quarter sales of about 55 trillion Korean won ($44.9 billion) and an operating profit of about 6.4 trillion Korean won ($5.2 billion). 

Analysts predicted the company would report March quarter revenue of 56.3 trillion won ($50 billion), according to a poll by Thomson Reuters, which is slightly higher than the top of Samsung's guidance range of 54 trillion to 56 trillion won. A year ago, Samsung reported revenue of 52.4 trillion won ($42.8 billion) and an operating profit of 6.2 trillion won ($5.1 billion).

Now playing: Watch this: Galaxy S20 vs. S20 Plus: Which Samsung phone to buy

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The company doesn't provide details about its quarterly performance until releasing its full results later in April. It's likely Samsung benefited from strong chip sales but took a hit in its smartphone business as people held off on pricey purchases amid worries about the coronavirus. 

The new coronavirus, which causes an illness called COVID-19, was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. The World Health Organization in March labeled COVID-19 a pandemic, and the virus since then has changed the way we live. The outbreak has caused cities and entire countries around the globe to issue lockdowns, shuttering stores, canceling events and ordering citizens to stay at home to help contain the coronavirus. As of Thursday, over 1.3 million people worldwide have been infected, and over 73,000 have died. 

Samsung's home of South Korea was one of the first markets to get hit by the coronavirus pandemic. While it's on its way to recovery, other major market like the US haven't yet hit their peak for infections

Phone struggles

2020 was supposed to be a strong year for the phone industry, as innovations like 5G and foldable screens got people shopping again. Instead, financial struggles and worries about COVID-19 will limit the number of devices companies can make and how many phones people will actually buy. Even once the worst of the pandemic is behind the US and other markets, the global economy will likely continue to struggle.

Smartphone shipments saw their biggest ever drop in February -- down 38% to 61.8 million units, according to Strategy Analytics -- as the novel coronavirus ravaged China, one of the world's largest markets and a vital manufacturing hub. For this whole year, phone sales should hit a 10-year low. Shipments of mobile phones, which include flip phones, likely will drop 13% to 1.57 billion units in 2020, while smartphone shipments should tumble about 11% to 1.26 billion units, according to CCS Insights. 

The forecast echoes what some tech companies have warned. Apple in January said the coronavirus would hurt its revenue and iPhone supply. China is one of Apple's biggest markets and the primary location where its devices like the iPhone are assembled. Because factories closed during the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in China, it caused iPhone shortages around the globe, Apple said. Since that time, Apple has reopened its stores in China but has closed all retail locations outside the region, indefinitely.

Samsung also temporarily closed its factories on worries about coronavirus. It builds most of its phones in South Korea and Vietnam. 

In January, Samsung reported the end to a rough year -- a day after its chief rival Apple posted an all-time high in revenue and earnings and reclaimed its title as the world's biggest smartphone maker. Samsung at the time said its fourth-quarter operating profit tumbled by 34% to 7.16 trillion won ($6 billion). Its overall revenue edged up 1% to 59.88 trillion won ($50.6 billion). Last year marked its worst performance since 2015. Samsung has been counting on its Galaxy S20 lineup, as well as 5G and expansion into less expensive phones, to help its results. 

While Samsung saw "solid sales of flagship smartphones" in the fourth quarter, its components business -- 41% of its revenue last year -- has been hurt by falling memory chip prices and weak demand for display panels. 

Samsung's chip business is likely getting a boost right now from data centers that rely on the technology to store everything we're doing online. But the business could struggle if people buy fewer phones, which is another big market for Samsung's memory chips.

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See a giant siphonophore, a bizarre ocean creature that looks like silly string – CNET

The outer ring alone of this siphonophore is estimated at 154 feet (47 meters) in length.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

While most of the world is hunkered down at home, scientists on the Schmidt Ocean Institute's research vessel Falkor are isolated on the ocean during an expedition to study the Ningaloo Canyons off the western coast of Australia. 

They found something flabbergasting in the deep sea: a crazy-long ocean creature called a siphonophore. Schmidt Ocean tweeted a video of what looks like a huge line of silly string sprayed in a spiral pattern in the water.

"It seems likely that this specimen is the largest ever recorded, and in strange UFO-like feeding posture," the institute wrote. Schmidt Ocean estimated the siphonophore's outer ring at 49 feet (15 meters) in diameter.  

While the siphonophore, which is related to jellyfish, looks like it's all one animal, it's actually a collection of parts. 

"It's made of millions of interconnected clones, like if the Borg and the Clone Wars had a baby together. There are about a dozen different jobs a clone can do in the colony, and each clone is specialized to a particular task," explained Rebecca Helm, a University of North Carolina, Asheville, marine biologist who started a Twitter thread to add context to the video.

Helm said she has been on numerous expeditions, but has never seen anything like this. Helm's entire thread is a marvel and worth a read if you want to dive deeper into what makes these ocean animals so amazing.

From giant gelatinous squid egg balls to this siphonophore that seems to stretch on forever, we're still discovering wild and wonderful new sights in the deep.

Now playing: Watch this: How cyborg jellyfish could someday patrol our oceans

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The OtterBox antimicrobial screen protector is now available – CNET

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I've been using OtterBox's antimicrobial Amplify screen protector for four months. 

David Carnoy/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Back in January at CES in Las Vegas, the folks at OtterBox stuck a new Amplify Glass screen protector on my iPhone 11 Pro. It didn't look any different from other screen protectors, but it had an interesting feature: According to OtterBox, the Corning glass was infused with EPA-registered silver-ion antimicrobial technology that would kill 99.9% of surface bacteria. 

Now, almost three months later, with the world a different, scarier place, the new OtterBox antimicrobial screen protector is available and more likely to find a receptive audience, even at its high list price of $50

The technology itself isn't new, but the company says it's the first EPA-registered glass protector on the market. To be clear, OtterBox isn't marketing it as a coronavirus killer. "The antimicrobial property of Amplify screen protectors is embedded into the glass so it is able to maintain its damage resistance, optical clarity and touch sensitivity," the company says. However, a disclaimer notes, "Amplify Glass with antimicrobial technology does not protect users or provide any direct or implied health benefit."

In other words, OtterBox doesn't want to get sued if you get sick -- whether you contract COVID-19 or any other illness. But if you're one of those people who's paranoid about all those tiny microbes living on your phone's screen, this may just give you a little peace of mind, even if clean your phone regularly. 

After all, a quick wipe of your screen probably isn't getting it as clean as you think. At CES, OtterBox ran a bacteria test on the phone screen of CNET's Alison DeNisco Rayome, who'd wiped her screen the day before. With a score of 469 RLU, her screen failed the test. Otterbox told her the pass limit for a hospital operating room is 100, while that for a patient room is 250.

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I also use the Speck Presidio Pro case, which Speck says has antimicrobial protection. 

David Carnoy/CNET

Read more: Best iPhone 11 and 11 Pro cases to buy for 2020

I can't tell you whether the Otterbox Amplify screen protector with antimicrobial technology has saved me from illness. But I will say it has held up quite well over three months and has remained completely unblemished with no visible scratches or cracks. A couple months ago I also started using a Speck Presidio Pro case with Microban antimicrobial protection, so now I've got antimicrobial tech all over my phone. (Otterbox is also selling a Defender Series case with antimicrobial protection for the iPhone 11 series and Samsung Galaxy S20 series phones.) Of course, the best thing you can do is wash your hands and avoid touching your face.

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Boeing to launch Starliner spacecraft for second go at reaching the ISS – CNET

The CST-100 Starliner lands back on US soil, airbags full.

NASA/Bill Ingalls

Boeing launched its Starliner spacecraft with no humans on board in December, aiming to reach the International Space Station. The mission didn't go as planned. Due to technical problems, Starliner never made it to the ISS.

On Monday, Boeing announced it will take a second shot at sending an uncrewed Starliner to the station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. The program aims to launch astronauts from US soil for the first time since the end of the space shuttle era in 2011.

"We have chosen to refly our Orbital Flight Test to demonstrate the quality of the Starliner system," Boeing in a brief statement. "Flying another uncrewed flight will allow us to complete all flight test objectives and evaluate the performance of the second Starliner vehicle at no cost to the taxpayer." 

A joint Boeing and NASA investigation turned up a host of software and communications-link problems with the initial Starliner flight. These issues caused the spacecraft to abort its attempt to reach the ISS. The Starliner capsule returned to Earth intact thanks to the ground crew's efforts to save it. 

Boeing and NASA have not yet revealed a date for the launch. Starliner must pass its uncrewed flight tests before NASA uses it to send astronauts to the ISS. 

SpaceX, also a participant in the Commercial Crew Program, is scheduled to launch a crewed Dragon capsule with two NASA astronauts on board as early as May. Boeing has a little catching up to do.

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Coronavirus chronicles: Here’s some good news amid the dire reports – CNET

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Coronavirus is affecting people across the world, but there are many reasons to be hopeful.

Mehedi Hasan/NurPhoto/Getty Images
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Right now the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 are all anyone can talk about. You're not alone if you feel overwhelmed or find yourself focusing on worst-case scenarios. So let's take a second, breathe deep and look at some of the positive things going on in these strange times.

Keep in mind that the pandemic is far from over and you should continue to play your part to look after yourself and others. Here's how to protect yourself from coronavirus, how to prepare for quarantine and how to keep your spirits up. Remember, there are many reasons not to sink into worry or fear. We'll keep updating this page with encouraging, reassuring and uplifting news. 

Latest: Check out "People are coming together" section


We know how to slow the spread

Follow the advice of your local authority to minimize your chances of getting or spreading the virus, in particular by washing your hands regularly, not touching your face and avoiding non-essential trips out of your home.

More countries are containing the spread

Many countries around the world are in the midst of coronavirus outbreaks, and if you live in any of these places you should continue to follow the guidelines. The results are reassuring: In countries that have acted fast and taken social distancing seriously, the spread of the virus has been dramatically slowed or even contained.

  • China is reporting a drastic reduction in new cases, although this was achieved using extensive lockdown measures.
  • Singapore managed to contain the spread of the virus by acting fast, without imposing the draconian measures seen in China.
  • Hong Kong and Taiwan were able to tackle the virus thanks to their experience with SARS in 2002, teaching the world valuable lessons about investing time and resources into dealing with an outbreak.
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Even when things seem bleak, people are helping each other.

Ziad Ahmed/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We're working on a cure

Scientists around the world are looking for a coronavirus vaccine. It's essential not to rush this process, and it will take months or even years to develop the vaccine and make sure it's safe. But the work has begun and some promising avenues have already been identified.

  • Researchers have a head start as the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen is similar to coronaviruses we've encountered before, including the SARS virus that struck in 2002.
  • Clinical trials of potential vaccines are underway in China, testing methods of stimulating our immune system to fight the virus.
  • The first US clinical trials for a potential vaccine have begun in Seattle. Biotech company Moderna has taken a piece of the genetic code for the pathogen's S protein -- the part that's present in other coronaviruses, like SARS -- and fused it with fatty nanoparticles which can be injected into the body.
  • Imperial College London is designing a similar vaccine using coronavirus RNA, its genetic code.
  • Pennsylvania biotech company Inovio is generating strands of DNA it hopes will stimulate an immune response. 
  • Johnson & Johnson and French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi are both working with the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop vaccines. Sanofi's plan is to mix coronavirus DNA with genetic material from a harmless virus, while Johnson & Johnson will attempt to deactivate SARS-CoV-2 and switch off its ability to cause illness.
  • In the meantime, existing antiviral drugs may have an effect on the new coronavirus, such as remdesivir or the anti-flu drug favipiravir.
  • Formula 1 racing engineers at Mercedes have joined forces with University College London to develop a breathing device that can be used instead of taking patients to intensive care and placing them on a ventilator.

Now playing: Watch this: Coronavirus lockdown: Why social distancing saves lives

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People do recover

Around the world, many are recovering from the infection. Often this is thanks to the hard work of medical staff and the people who support them.

  • Doctors in India have reported success in treating infected patients with a mixture of drugs usually used to tackle HIV, swine flu and malaria.
  • In China and Japan, doctors have had promising results using blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 to treat newly infected patients. This well-established medical technique could even be used to boost the immunity of people who are at risk of catching the disease. 
  • Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson returned home to the US from Australia in late March after recovering from coronavirus.
  • 102-year-old Italica Grondona recovered from the virus in Italy, while a 103-year-old Chinese woman is reported to have recovered as she had no major underlying health conditions.
  • Vint Cerf, who is 76, tweeted on April 3: "Good news - VA Public Health has certified my wife and me as no longer contagious with COVID19. Recovering!" Cerf, who is known as the "father of the internet," tweeted on March 30 that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and was "recovering." (Note: Cerf's account on Twitter isn't verified, but a CNET staffer who has been following Cerf for years vouched for the account.)

Testing is improving 

Newer, faster tests are also being developed around the world. With all this medical research, we're understanding the virus better and learning how to deal with it.

  • On March 27, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for a new test from Abbott Laboratories that can deliver coronavirus results in as soon as five minutes.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has started testing for antibodies to see if healthy people previously had the coronavirus, The New York Times reported on April 4. The tests could help the agency better understand the virus and its spread, indicating how prevalent the virus has been and whether a significant number of people have had it without actually getting sick, the Times said.  

The environment is getting a break

The slowdown in production, transportation and sales is having a huge impact on the economy and on the finances of workers. But one side effect of the reduction in manufacturing and vehicle traffic is a reduction in pollution. 

  • China's lockdown led to a 25 percent decrease in CO2 emissions when compared with the same period in 2019.
  • Satellite imagery shows startling reductions in air pollution over countries where traffic has been limited.
  • Researcher Marshall Burke from Stanford University calculated that the reduction in emissions in China in January and February could save as many as 77,000 lives. To put that number into context, that's more than 20 times the number of people who died from coronavirus in that time.
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Even amid the pandemic, there are small moments of friendship and solidarity. In Jounieh in Lebanon, students used a drone to deliver flowers on Mother's Day. 

Joseph Eid/AFP via Getty Images

Support is available

As people stay away from work and many businesses close their doors temporarily, we all face uncertainty and stress. Governments have pledged to support citizens and businesses with subsidies, loans, suspensions of tax and rent, and other measures. These are some of the initial measures being taken around the world that may ease your mind, or inspire you to contact your representative to press for more help. 

  • Australia is paying AU$750 (around $445 or £380) to all citizens on a lower income, and offering loans to small and medium-sized businesses.
  • Denmark is subsidizing 75% of workers' salaries. 
  • France has promised no company will be allowed to fail as a result of the pandemic, freezing tax and rent payments for small businesses and expanding the welfare system for workers.
  • Germany has pledged at least 500 billion euros ($550 billion) in loan guarantees. 
  • Italy has promised help for families and one-off 500 euro payments to self-employed people.
  • Spain has announced a 200 billion euro rescue package in loans for small businesses, and is freezing mortgages and utility bills for individuals. 
  • Sweden is subsidizing 90% of workers' salaries if they're affected by coronavirus.
  • The UK is guaranteeing 80% of workers' salaries and providing limited sick pay to those who are self-employed.
  • The US has passed legislation to give $1,200 to most American adults and $500 to most children, as part of a stimulus package that also includes loans to business and local and state governments, funds for hospitals and more unemployment insurance. Also, you also have extra time to file your tax return because Tax Day has been moved to July 15.

Self-isolation doesn't have to be isolating

If you're stuck at home, there are plenty of ways to keep yourself entertained, informed and connected.

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Fitness trainer Joe Wicks is teaching physical education classes live via YouTube.

The Body Coach via Getty Images

People are coming together

If we're going to get through this, it'll be because we all came together and helped each other. Many of us are finding ways to bring out the best in ourselves and our communities, resisting misinformation and divisiveness.

  • Many have joined volunteer mutual aid groups to support the vulnerable in their own community. When the UK government called for volunteers, over a quarter of a million people signed up in a single day.
  • People and businesses are creating online resources to help ease the tension and inconvenience of quarantine, many of them free or discounted.
  • Kind gestures are everywhere, from thank you signs for garbage collectors to socially distanced "welcome home" parades for a young cancer patient.
  • In the UK, people around the country simultaneously took to their windows, balconies and gardens to cheer and clap the health workers of the NHS.
  • Apple, Facebook and other companies are donating millions of face masks held in case of wildfires or other needs.
  • Cuban doctors traveled to Italy to help deal with the spread of the disease. 
  • Celebrities are doing their bit, whether it's James McAvoy donating £275,000 to health care workers, Amy Adams and Josh Gad reading stories for children or John Krasinski starting a YouTube channel dedicated to good news.

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Airbnb raising $1B to support company during coronavirus – CNET

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Airbnb has raised $1 billion amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Airbnb on Monday said it's raising $1 billion to support the company's long-term investment in hosts who share their homes and experiences on the platform. The money will also help "serve all stakeholders in the Airbnb community," the company said in a press release. 

Firms Silver Lake and Sixth Street Partners will invest $1 billion in Airbnb in a combination of debt and equity securities, the home-share giant said. This comes as COVID-19, the disease caused by the newly identified coronavirus, has wreaked havoc on a range of industries, including travel. Many cities and countries have imposed lockdowns to slow the spread of the disease, and major events have been called off or postponed. The travel industry could reportedly lose around $24 billion in foreign spending this year as tourism dips. 

Last year, Airbnb said it was planning to go public in 2020, though it's not clear if those plans still stand amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Airbnb said it'll focus on investing in and adding more hosts into its community. It'll also focus on long-term stays, which allow people to find housing for extended periods. Lastly, the company will also look at continuing to offer activities through Airbnb Experiences.  

"The desire to explore, connect, have new experiences, and have a comfortable place to call home are universal and enduring," Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky said in a statement. "And our commitment to create a greater sense of belonging -- for everyone, everywhere -- will never change."

Airbnb will contribute $5 million from the investment to its Superhost Relief Fund, which will give grants worth a total of $15 million to Superhosts who rent out their homes and need assistance with paying their rent or mortgage. The grants will also go to long-tenured Experience hosts who need financial help. 

Last week, Airbnb said it would pay hosts $250 million to help offset losses from guest booking cancellations.  

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Facebook releases data that could help forecast the spread of coronavirus – CNET

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Facebook is once again offering researchers aggregated user data to help combat illness.

Image by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Facebook is providing researchers with more anonymized location data that could help them figure out if people are staying at home and forecast where the novel coronavirus will likely spread next.

The move shows how the social network is using the trove of data it collects from its nearly 2.5 billion monthly active users to help combat diseases such as COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. It's in line with how Facebook has used data in the past to create disease prevention maps aimed at combating contagious illnesses such as the flu that can be spread through human contact.

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Some Facebook users in the US might see this survey at the top of the News Feed. Participation is optional.

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The use of location data might make some users uncomfortable given the privacy scandals that have plagued the world's largest social network. Facebook said it doesn't identify individual users and provides aggregate information at a city or county level. Google also announced last week that it was using location data to help researchers see if people were social distancing.

On Monday, Facebook unveiled three new types of disease prevention maps unveiled three new types of disease prevention maps as part of its Data for Good program. One map shows the probability that people in one area will come in contact with people in another. That could help researchers determine where new COVID-19 cases will pop up next. Another map shows if people in certain regions are staying home, helping researchers figure out if social distancing mandates are working. The third map shows friendships across states and countries, information that could also help track the possible spread of COVID-19.

Facebook is also teaming up with Carnegie Mellon University Delphi Research Center, which is conducting a 3- to 5-minute survey that asks people to report their symptoms and locations to help track the spread of COVID-19. Some Facebook users in the US will see a link to this optional survey at the top of their News Feed.

Facebook said the university won't share survey responses with the social network. Facebook also said it won't share information about a user's identity with the researchers and instead will use a random ID number.

Facebook has also been sharing data with Harvard University's School of Public Health and National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan to help them forecast the spread of the coronavirus.

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