From vaccines to black fungus, here’s how Google is adapting to India’s evolving searches in 2021

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Last year, the novel coronavirus pandemic forced most of the world to remain indoors for several months. As a result, many of us were forced to change our habits, schedules and much more. Meanwhile, our online searches have also adapted with the changing times, with requests for local news stories related to the coronavirus, vaccines – even medical complications like mucormycosis (also known as the black fungus) have seen a rise, according to a new report.

The rise in the number of searches related to the coronavirus pandemic and previously mentioned diseases that are connected with it also saw a “manifold” rise this year, after the second wave of the pandemic struck the country a few months ago, Anal Ghosh, Google Maps’ Senior Program Manager for South Asia told the Indian Express. The company has reportedly been working with the ICMR to add new vaccination centres to its Google Maps feature.

In order to deal with the rise in these specific types of queries on the world’s most popular search engine, the company explains that it began to test new features and functionality in five states to help users seeking information. These included the addition of a new feature in testing on Google Maps, that would let users crowd-source information to find hospital beds nearby and oxygen using Google Maps.

In order to help populate the data necessary for the feature to work for users in the five states the project was tested in, the company says that it would nudge users who visited a specific location such as a hospital or a provider for oxygen to answer questions about availability. It focused on all hospitals that were only treating Covid-19 patients, while adding oxygen providers to its search and Maps feature.

However, information about the availability of beds and oxygen supplies can change very rapidly, so the company says that any answers provided by users would be removed after one day in order to keep these details fresh. Google also says that it employed “very strict and stringent checks” to keep the data free of spam and misleading information, and that it plans to extend the feature to users in other regions across the country.

In addition to the hospital and oxygen locator tool, the company has also added a dedicated vaccination tab to answer users questions about vaccine such as side effects, available vaccines and impact on women’s health. This fact-providing and myth-busting module focuses specifically on vaccines, the company says. Meanwhile, the company is also working on adding several vaccination centres and COVID-19 testing facilities on the Maps service — with around 23,000 vaccination sites and over 2,500 testing centres available at the moment, according to the report.