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Free of COVID restrictions, England's contact tracing "pingdemic" threatens shortages

Supermarkets and wholesalers in the U.K. are beginning to face shortages after the government's official health app told hundreds of thousands of workers to self-isolate after contact with someone with COVID-19, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: The "pingdemic" disruptions pose a new challenge to the highly vaccinated U.K., which is reporting more than 50,000 new COVID-19 cases per day as the Delta variant tears through the country.


  • U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted virtually all pandemic restrictions in England on July 19, threatening to exacerbate the problem further.
  • 87% of adults have received at least one vaccine dose and 68% have received two doses, per Reuters. 60% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people, according to health officials.

Driving the news: The National Health Service's contact tracing app that notifies people to isolate for 10 days after COVID-19 exposure has tarnished Johnson's plan to fully reopen England's economy.

  • "We're very concerned about the situation," Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said, per Reuters. "We're monitoring the situation."
  • The supermarket group Iceland said it closed a number of stores due to staff shortages.
  • "We have a structural issue with [a shortage of] HGV drivers for a variety of different reasons, but of course the 'pingdemic' has made it even worse," Iceland's managing director Richard Walker told ITV. "We are starting to see some availability issues."
  • Sainsbury's, the U.K.'s second-largest supermarket group, said customers should be able to find the products they want, but perhaps not every brand.

Between the lines: To avoid the disruption, many individuals have deleted the contract tracing app from their phones, per Reuters.

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Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

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Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

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Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

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Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

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"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

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What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

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