Joggers wearing protective masks run past a person fishing on Pier 14 on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, California
Volunteers are being sought among San Francisco’s younger population © David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

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Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley have set up what they call the ImmuneCorps, an army of 500 people at low risk from Covid-19 who will now return to daily life to help the vulnerable with their groceries and other essential tasks. 

Naval Ravikant, who is best known for founding Angel List, which helps start-ups find angel investors, announced in March that he planned to create “a volunteer army of infection-recovered young people, to help the afflicted and keep the lights on.”

While the initial 500 volunteers in San Francisco and New York are mostly young people who consider themselves less at risk from the virus, the project said it aimed to recruit workers who have contracted and recovered from Covid-19 and therefore have some level of immunity. 

The extent of the immunity enjoyed by people who have recovered from the virus is currently unclear.

Mr Ravikant said that ImmuneCorps offers the first iteration — or “minimum viable product” in Silicon Valley speak — of the roll out of a two-track society: those who have had coronavirus, and those who have not.

“You have to have some concept of some people can be helpful, but other people must shelter,” he said. “I think every reasonable society is going to come to that conclusion.”

He backed the concept of a “green passport”, or bracelet, where those tested and cleared would be able to display that status to others and rejected its dystopian implications.

“I think dystopian is locking people in their home for 18 months, forcing them to go on social welfare, taking away their business and livelihood,” he said. “I don’t think dystopian is identifying who’s already had a disease or not.”

Mr Ravikant has not put any money into ImmuneCorps, and said he simply came up with the idea for the project. “Unfortunately the liability is too high for someone like me to be involved.” 

Ultimately the goal is to start building a “Craigslist for the new world”, said Kendrick Nguyen, who is leading the project, and is chief executive of the crowdfunding investment platform Republic, which is “sponsoring” the ImmuneCorps.

Later iterations might make it possible to fund serology tests, which look for the presence of antibodies, to those who might not otherwise be able to afford them. “If you’re a customer of a corner store in New York, and there’s a bunch of kids working in the store who can’t really afford $50 to take the tests, maybe you can pay for them,” Mr Nguyen said.

ImmuneCorps is just one of many fledgling services being built by developers in Silicon Valley and beyond that are attempting to engineer solutions to the crisis. Efforts range from the wildly ambitious, to the not altogether serious, such as a reminder service for homeworkers, named simply: What Day Is It Today?

On Product Hunt, a show-and-tell space for new apps hoping to create “buzz”, the past few weeks have seen a flurry of creations including Stream, a service for setting up virtual events on video call service Zoom, where participants must pay before entering the chat, and TheWorkout.Today, a service that delivers home fitness routines to your inbox every morning.

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