Keep it Coronavirus-free: how to clean your mobile phone

by May 8, 2020

Keep it coronavirus-free: how to clean your mobile phone
You may be washing your hands, but there is a risk of contaminating them again with your phone. Time for a wipe

Elle Hunt
Lena Ciric, as told to Elle Hunt

Mon 23 Mar 2020

Woman wiping mobile phone

Ordinarily it’s a good idea to clean your phone every now and then. However, because coronavirus is so contagious and we know it can survive on surfaces for two or three days, it’s wise to clean it more frequently.

We take our phones everywhere, and we’re constantly touching them. You might wash your hands after you’ve been out but then contaminate them straight away with your phone, as you haven’t cleaned it.

Apple advises you to use a 70% isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox disinfecting wipes. The alcohol quickly evaporates from the surface of your phone and kills all the microbes. Don’t use Dettol wipes, or any other type that needs to be left on the surface for a certain period in order to work, because this will interfere with the phone’s functioning.

You can also just use soap and water. Clearly don’t put your phone under running water, even if it’s water-resistant. Moisten a cloth or a paper towel with washing-up liquid or hand soap – something that foams, with a detergent in it. Wipe it over the phone, then wipe that off with a cloth or paper towel moistened with water. You might have to do that a couple of times to get rid of the soapy bits. Then dry it – that will do the trick.

Dr Lena Ciric is a microbiologist at UCL

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The coronavirus: What is COVID-19 and how can I protect myself?

by May 8, 2020

The coronavirus: What is COVID-19 and how can I protect myself?

In partnership with nib Group Medical Advisor Dr Hamish Black

Woman washing her hands in the kitchen sink to follow hygiene precautions.

For information on how we’re supporting our members through this difficult and uncertain time, please visit our COVID-19 member support page.

If you’re looking to change your holiday plans in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), please visit nib travel insurance.

If you’re looking for information about the coronavirus relating to your nib health insurance policy, please visit COVID-19 and your cover.

Update: It’s been over four months since the first official report of the novel coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) and since then, the disease has spread, causing the World Health Organization to label it a pandemic and Australia’s Prime Minister to declare the situation a human biosecurity emergency.

This means it’s now more important than ever to keep informed on the ways that we can all do our bit to slow the spread of the virus.

Under the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), there are a number of measures we all need to put in place to protect not only our own health, but the health of our loved ones and our community.

In short, the Government has advised that you are to stay at home unless:

  • You’re going to work or an education institution (if you are unable to work or study at home)
  • You’re shopping for essential supplies like groceries
  • You’re going out to exercise in your neighbourhood, on your own or with one other person
  • You’re attending medical appointments or compassionate visits

To see the full list of guidelines and restrictions, head to the Australian Government’s dedicated page.

To understand more about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and how to manage your risk of infection, we spoke to GP Dr Hamish Black.

What is the coronavirus?

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is the name given to the most recently discovered infectious disease that’s part of the coronavirus family. Coronaviruses can affect both humans and animals and other well-known strains include SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).

The name coronavirus comes from the Latin word corona, meaning crown. This is due to the virus being round and ringed with spikes when viewed under a microscope, appearing similar to the shape of a crown.

Where did it come from?

Cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) were first reported in Wuhan, China, on December 31, 2019.

According to the Centre for Disease Control, the latest coronavirus originates in bats and can be passed on to other animals. Although this disease circulates more commonly between animals, it can occasionally cross over to humans through mutations of the virus.

Although no one knows exactly where the virus originated, according to Columbia University epidemiologist Ian Lipkin, “there is no question that this virus moved into humans from an animal source.”

Female doctor standing above a seated patient checking their symptoms

How is the coronavirus transmitted?

Researchers believe this disease is most likely spread from person to person through:

  • Direct close contact with a person while they’re infectious, or
  • Contact with droplets of bodily fluids when an infected person coughs or sneezes

The World Health Organization estimates those infected will transmit the virus to between two and 2.5 other people.

To help minimise outbreaks of the virus, the Australian Government has launched the COVIDsafe app. This app uses tracing technology to let you know if you’ve been in contact with someone else using the app who’s tested positive for the novel coronavirus in the past few weeks; meaning health officials can contact those potentially exposed to COVID-19 quicker than ever.

Signs and symptoms of the coronavirus

Many people infected by the virus are asymptomatic, which means they will test positive for the virus but show no symptoms. For others, symptoms can vary from mild to severe.

According to Hamish, “The course of illness is variable, and the people who tend to get sick are the elderly or immunocompromised.”

Symptoms arise within two to 14 days of exposure to the virus and can include:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Dry cough
  • Aches and pains
  • Runny nose or nasal congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhoea
  • Difficulty breathing

Healthy people do not need to wear facemasks as they will not protect you from becoming infected with the virus.

Although researchers around the world are working to develop a vaccine for the latest coronavirus (COVID-19), as yet, there’s no treatment for the disease. However, there are basic precautions you can take to stop the spread:

  • Thoroughly clean hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
  • Keep at least one metre from anyone who’s coughing or sneezing
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
  • Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your elbow, not your hands
  • Stay home if you feel unwell
  • Stay informed by reading the latest updates from the Australian Government
  • Follow the advice of your GP

Should you wear a facemask?

Healthy people do not need to wear facemasks as they will not protect you from becoming infected with the virus. However, if you become sick, wearing a facemask will protect others from infection.

Are there places you shouldn’t travel?

For the first time in history, the Prime Minister has declared an indefinite ‘Level 4 Travel Ban’. The advice to every Australian is to not travel abroad.

For more up-to-date information, check the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) travel advice on the Smartraveller website.

If you’re looking for information about changing your holiday plans in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), please visit nib travel insurance.

What should you do if you have symptoms?

“Those people most at risk of becoming infected are those in contact with someone with the virus or someone who has travelled to areas with high infection rates,” says Hamish.

The World Health Organization advises that if you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, you should seek medical care.

If you are diagnosed, “treatment is supportive and also about minimising the spread,” says Hamish. “You will likely be confined to your house for 14 days, and your close contacts will be tested for the virus if they develop symptoms.”

If you’re concerned about symptoms, call the Healthdirect hotline, which is open 24 hours a day, to speak to a registered nurse: 1800 022 222

For more information you can call the National Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080.

For more information on the Australian management of the outbreak, travel restrictions and advice: https://www.health.gov.au/news/coronavirus-update-at-a-glance

For up to date advice from The World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

Information correct as of 30 March, 2020.

About Dr Hamish Black

Dr Hamish Black is the nib Group Medical Advisor. He has been a Medical Practitioner for over 25 years, trained as a General Practitioner and continues to practise as such two days a week. Hamish has also spent many years working in Emergency and Medical Assistance, including leading the nib travel clinical team. He has worked in rural and urban environments in Australia and the UK, including time with the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Everyone in NSW can be tested for coronavirus, says Premier Gladys Berejiklian

by May 6, 2020


NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says anyone with symptoms, or concerned they have COVID-19, should come forward and get tested.

The state is ramping up its coronavirus testing, with plans to check more than 8000 people a day, as it reported seven new cases of the virus on Friday.

“Anybody across the state, if you have symptoms, if you’re worried you have COVID-19, please come forward and get tested,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“We want to see the number of tests go up above 8000 a day. As we consider easing restrictions, we need to have more tests.”

Previously, testing was available to anyone within about a dozen outbreak centres who suspected symptoms, as well as anyone who was deemed high risk after a full history assessment completed by a GP.

More than 7300 tests were completed on Thursday, with seven new cases of COVID-19 reported. The total number of confirmed cases in NSW is 2982.

It comes as the state’s COVID-19 death toll reached 34 after a fourth resident at Anglicare’s Newmarch House in Caddens died.

NSW Health confirmed the 79-year-old woman died early on Thursday.

Some 44 people at the western Sydney facility – 29 residents and 15 staff – have been infected with COVID-19.

On Thursday night, Anglicare held an online meeting for residents and families with representatives from NSW Health, the federal Department of Health, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner and the Older Persons Advocacy Network.

Afterward, the organisation’s chief executive, Grant Millard, flagged that there could be a long road ahead for Newmarch House.

“Given the experience from other aged care sites that have had an outbreak of COVID-19, it’s very likely we will be dealing with this for around 50 days,” Mr Millard said.

With 55 Newmarch House staff in isolation, the federal government has sent a “surge workforce”, including an emergency response team, to the home.

Ms Berejiklian also said the NSW Government would contribute an extra $73 million in funding to extend mental health services during the coronavirus pandemic.

-with AAP

Tips for Staying Healthy During a Pandemic

by May 6, 2020

By Melissa Laitner, PhD, MPH, SWHR Director of Science Policy

The global spread of Coronavirus has altered life as we know it. Almost three-quarters of women feel their lives have been disrupted significantly by the outbreak. Below, SWHR shares some important tips on maintaining good health in the midst of this crisis.

Practice Basic Hygiene

A significant concern in the current situation is how best to avoid catching and spreading illness. Following good hygiene practices and basic recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is important. Wash your hands often with soap and water, clean frequently touched surfaces daily, and cover coughs and sneezes. Local governments may have additional recommendations, such as stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders. Search for local information online, or find contact information for community health departments here.

Call your primary care provider if you feel you may have symptoms of Coronavirus. The CDC’s online symptom checker can help determine whether symptoms may be caused by COVID-19. Individuals who develop emergency warning signs, such as difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, or bluish lips or face, should seek emergency attention.

Maintain Healthy Habits

Maintaining healthy exercise, nutrition, and sleep habits may feel especially challenging during this time, but these habits are critical for managing health. Engaging in moderate physical activity is one of the best things for supporting a healthy immune system and managing stress. Try for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily, whether dancing, lifting weights, practicing yoga or aerobics at home, or taking a walk or run outside. If you exercise outdoors, ensure you adhere to local stay-at-home orders and maintain a 6 foot or greater distance from others.

Maintaining healthy nutrition habits should also be a priority. This includes consuming appropriate amounts of fruits and vegetables, limiting processed food, and minimizing sweets and sugary drinks. It appears unlikely that Coronavirus is transmitted via food, but precautions can be taken to minimize risk of food-borne illness spread. Watch a video on how to wipe down groceries or takeout items here.

Finally, good sleep can boost the immune system and lower stress levels. Anxiety and disruption to daily routines can make falling asleep more difficult. If so, read some tips on sleep hygiene here. In addition, SWHR’s “Women & Sleep: A Guide for Better Health” provides an evidence-based overview of key sleep challenges women face.

Manage Your Health Care Visits and Medications

Most of people are stuck indoors for the foreseeable future, but that does not mean plans for long-term health should fall to the wayside. People with health care appointments scheduled should consider their options carefully. Primary care providers may be overwhelmed with possible Coronavirus cases, so rescheduling appointments for several months into the future may be the best option. If a health care visit cannot be postponed, ask if a Telehealth appointment is available.

It is also important to take inventory of medications to ensure adequate supplies are on hand. Allow time to refill prescriptions early if possible. Many doctors are providing 60- or 90-day prescriptions in order for patients to avoid monthly trips to the pharmacy. If medication is needed quickly, some pharmacies may offer delivery services.

Don’t Neglect Pre-Existing Conditions

People with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, should make sure to stay on top of their disease management. Adhering to medical recommendations is crucial at all times for those who are chronically ill, but especially now. Some pre-existing conditions can put patients at greater risk for Coronavirus. People who are immunocompromised or at greater risk from the virus should review the CDC’s recommendations here.

Women are more likely to experience certain conditions, such as migraine, chronic pain, and autoimmune disease, among others. Below are Coronavirus-specific resources for individuals with these chronic conditions:

Engage in Stress Management

Even if physical health is first and foremost on everyone’s mind right now, it is important not to neglect mental health. Keep a close eye on signs of stress and practice healthy coping (see the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Coronavirus toolkit here).

It is important to pay attention to the news, but regular media breaks may be advisable for those who discover it is causing them undue distress. Also, although physical distancing should be maintained during the pandemic, this does not have to lead to total isolation. Zoom, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts are just a few of the video tools available to help people stay connected with loved ones from a safe distance.

For those individuals receiving mental health treatment, continuing with regular appointments is important, but requesting to switch to telehealth appointments may be advisable. With the federal government lifting_telehealth restrictions, most providers should be able to switch in-person sessions to a virtual appointment. For those without a mental health provider but who feel like therapy would be useful, try a virtual provider or online service.

Finally, see resources for helping children cope with stress related to Coronavirus on the CDC website.

Caregiving Considerations

Women are more likely than men to be primary caregivers for sick or disabled loved ones. They also often take on a large portion of the child care at home. While children do not appear to be at higher risk of the virus than adults, older adults and those with pre-existing conditions are at much higher risk for coronavirus complications.

Those with caregiving responsibilities should make an effort to limit coronavirus spread and help to avoid complications. Find resources for caregivers here, and see CDC information on children and coronavirus here.

What to Do If You’re Pregnant

Pregnancy may be a particularly challenging time for women currently, as it is still unclear whether they have a greater risk of getting sick or having serious complications from coronavirus. We also do not currently have good information on whether and how COVID-19 may cause pregnancy complications, nor do we know if it can be passed from a pregnant woman to a fetus or newborn.

Pregnant women should talk to their OB-GYN about best practices for staying healthy during the pandemic. The CDC has an overview on coronavirus and pregnancy here. The Harvard Health Blog also has a helpful Q&A on pregnancy.

As we learn more about coronavirus, it is likely more information will come to light on how coronavirus affects pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as very young babies. For now, the best thing pregnant women can do is to engage in good general health practices and stay in close communication with their doctor.

Ask for Help

It is important to remember that sometimes we all need help to handle stressful situations. Right now, even though reaching out needs to be virtual in many cases, there are still many resources available.

For immediate support, text the Crisis Line at 741741. The Domestic Violence Hotline has posted a resource guide here, and you can access trained counselors 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE or via online chat. And the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK.

For more options, see CNN’s guide to helping and getting help during the coronavirus crisis here.

Coronavirus: The history of hand sanitizer and why it’s important

by May 6, 2020

The history of hand sanitizer—how the Coronavirus staple went from mechanic shops to consumer shelves.

Panic buying over the coronavirus pandemic has led to a variety of household products flying off the shelves at your local grocery store. 

That includes staples, like bread and toilet paper, as well as one product that’s only been commercially available for a few decades, but which many people clearly now view as a necessity: hand sanitizer.


Purchases of the disinfecting gel have skyrocketed in the U.S. ever since the first case of COVID-19 hit the country. During the last week of February, a period that saw the first American death from COVID-19, hand sanitizer sales in the U.S. were up by 300% compared to the same week a year earlier, according to market research from Nielsen.

The following week, the first week of March, hand sanitizer sales shot up by 470% compared to the same week a year earlier, Nielsen tells CNBC Make It. That’s in an industry that already sees more than $200 million in annual sales of hand sanitizer products in the U.S., according to Nielsen.

Supermarkets and pharmacies across the country have sold out of hand sanitizer, leaving only empty shelves where disinfectant products would normally be found. 

With some consumers even hoarding hand sanitizer amid the shortage, online prices for the products soared, leading law enforcement officials in many states to threaten prosecution for price-gouging against third-party sellers on sites like Walmart and Amazon (where an 8-ounce bottle of Purell that would normally cost $2.50 was briefly on sale for $90 before being removed by Amazon in early March).

What’s more, the run on hand sanitizer also came as health officials across the country have remained adamant that the best way for people to combat the spread of potentially dangerous germs is simply through diligent hand-washing with soap and water. (For what it’s worth, the U.S. soap industry is worth more than $2 billion per year. Sales of hand soap in the U.S. have jumped by “double-digit” percentage points during the Coronavirus pandemic, but nowhere near the increase of hand sanitizer sales, according to Nielsen’s research.)


So, what’s all the fuss about?

The history of hand sanitizer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do note that, when it comes to preventing the spread of coronavirus, “if soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.” 

And indeed, that is the primary ingredient in hand sanitizer: alcohol. Most hand sanitizers contain anywhere from 60% to 95% isopropyl or ethyl alcohol mixed with water and gels like glycol and glycerin in order to prevent drying out users’ skin. The resulting product is typically sold in a hand gel or liquid spray under brand names such as Purell or GermX.

But while alcohol has been in use as an antiseptic since the late-1800s least, the exact origins of hand sanitizer are up for debate. 

One version of the story points to Lupe Hernandez,  a nursing student in Bakersfield, California in 1966, as the inventor of hand sanitizer after combining alcohol and gel for use by doctors in situations where they don’t have time to access soap and warm water before treating patients.

However, a recent investigation by the Smithsonian Institution historian Joyce Bedi was unable to turn up any trace of Hernandez, or any evidence of a U.S. patent for hand sanitizer under that name from the 1960s.

There’s also Sterillium, which the German company Hartmann claims was “the world’s first marketable alcohol-based hand disinfectant” when it hit European shelves in 1965. It’s made with glycerin and 75% alcohol. 

Still, others trace modern hand sanitizer back to Goldie and Jerry Lippman, the married couple that developed a waterless hand cleaner in 1946 for rubber plant workers who previously used harsh chemicals like kerosene and benzene to remove graphite and carbon black from their hands at the end of their shifts. The product, which they called Gojo (a portmanteau of their names) is a mix of petroleum jelly, mineral oil and less than 5% alcohol that’s still used today by auto mechanics and other workers to clean off substances like grease and oil.

The Lippman’s mixed their first batches of Gojo in a washing machine in the basement of Goldie’s parents’ Akron, Ohio home, where the couple was living at the time, according to The New Yorker. They put the resulting product in pickle jars and sold it out of the trunk of their car.

Over the ensuing decades, Gojo continued selling their products as industrial cleaners. Then, in 1988, the company invented the hand gel Purell, which consists of 70% ethyl alcohol as its primary ingredient, along with propylene glycol. While Purell is now the world’s best-selling hand sanitizer, it took some time for stores to carry the product that most everyday customers weren’t really asking for. As such, Gojo did not release Purell onto the consumer market until 1997.

bottles of purell Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

That same year, Vi-Jon Industries followed Gojo’s lead by introducing GermX, which is now the second best-selling hand sanitizer in America, after Purell, according to Nielsen.

It wasn’t a thing at first

Despite Purell and GermX entering the consumer market in the late-1990s, hand sanitizer sales did not start taking off until the 2000s. First of all, it wasn’t until 2002 that the CDC first revised its hand hygiene guidelines to recommend alcohol-based hand sanitizer as a possible alternative for both health care personnel and the average person looking to eliminate germs when soap and warm water are not available, or as a time-saving solution.

Alcohol-based hand rubs take less time to use than traditional hand washing,” the CDC wrote in 2002. “In an eight-hour shift, an estimated one hour of an ICU nurse’s time will be saved by using an alcohol-based handrub.”

Throughout the 2000s, hospitals around the world started the widespread practice of placing hand sanitizer pumps throughout medical facilities.

And in 2009, the World Health Organization followed suit, when Swiss epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert Dr. Didier Pittet wrote new WHO guidelines promoting the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer among health care professionals, especially those in resource-poor countries with limited access to clean water.

That year also happens to be when consumer sales of hand sanitizer first spiked in the wake of the H1N1 swine flu that infected more than 60 million people just in the U.S., killing an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people around the world.

The combination of consumers’ fears of contracting H1N1 and health experts increasingly recommending alcohol-based hand sanitizers as an option to fight the spread of germs in recent years likely contributed to the first significant spike in hand sanitizer sales, which surged by 70% during that period in the U.S., according to Nielsen’s Executive Vice President of U.S. Manufacturer Client Success, Laura McCullough.

“When we had the H1N1 virus we saw a big spike with hand sanitizers…,” McCullough tells CNBC Make It. “Since then, we’ve seen a very steady continued growth and progression of the category as consumers have continued to adopt [hand sanitizer].”

Today, U.S. consumers spend hundreds of millions of dollars on hand sanitizer each year. Globally, the market for hand sanitizer products could top $2.1 billion by 2027, according to one estimate by market research firm Fior Markets, which was released on Thursday and notes the lasting effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the market’s growth potential.

For the average American consumer, who hopefully doesn’t have to worry about finding clean water and soap, and isn’t facing a time crunch that an emergency room doctor might have to deal with, hand sanitizer is an attractive option, especially now, for on-the-go situations where they might not be able to duck into a bathroom to wash their hands.

“For example, you’re out and about in New York City, you’re using a Port-a-Potty, or maybe you’re somewhere where you just don’t have a chance to wash your hands. Hand sanitizer is a good alternative for hand-washing in those situations,” Dr. Anjali Bharati, an emergency medicine physician at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital, tells CNBC Make It.

An FDA warning

Even hand sanitizer isn’t without some controversy, though. As Americans have scoured store shelves in search of hand sanitizer and other disinfectants in recent weeks, Purell-maker Gojo has come under fire from health officials.

In January, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a letter warning Gojo against making any unsubstantiated health claims about the company’s hand sanitizer products. The FDA cited various Purell advertisements claiming the product kills “99.9 percent of illness-causing germs” and touting Purell as being effective in preventing dangerous diseases such as the flu, ebola, norovirus and others.

“However, FDA is currently not aware of any adequate and well-controlled studies demonstrating that killing or decreasing the number of bacteria or viruses on the skin by a certain magnitude produces a corresponding clinical reduction in infection or disease caused by such bacteria or virus,” the FDA wrote in its letter.

Meanwhile, Gojo is also currently facing two recent class action lawsuites filed by consumers who claim the company has made “misleading claims” about Purell’s ability to kill nearly 100% of germs and prevent certain diseases. 

GOJO president and CEO Carey Jaros has said in a statement that the company stands behind its products. And in response to the FDA’s letter, the company issued a statement noting that it has started “updating relevant website and other digital content as directed by the FDA and are taking steps to prevent a recurrence.”

Still, the FDA’s concerns don’t seem to have put a damper on consumers’ desire for more hand sanitizer as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread. 

Stores across the country continue to report shortages of the products, leading many concerned people to look for ways to make their own homemade versions. A quick online search will produce countless examples of DIY YouTube videos and websites offering instructions to do just that (here’s CNBC’s guide), while the alcohol brand Tito’s Homemade Vodka had to issue a statement in early-March noting that its vodka should not be used as the key component in any homemade hand sanitizers (Tito’s vodka contains 40% alcohol, which is below the CDC’s recommended threshold).

At the same time, other alcohol producers such as Anheuser-Busch and Pernod Ricard have pivoted to start producing hand sanitizer to donate to hospitals and government health agencies amid the shortage. New York State is using prison laborers to make its own hand sanitizer, while Elon Musk’s SpaceX is also making hand sanitizer and face shields (while Tesla will produce ventilators) to donate to hospitals and health care workers across the country.

Meanwhile, even though health officials have certainly come around to the benefits of alcohol-based hand sanitizers over the past two decades, they also remain adamant that the best method for avoiding germs is washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water. 

“The physical act of hand-washing and running water really does remove a very, very large percentage of bacteria, dirt and grime, something that hand sanitizer does not do,” says Dr. Bharati.

–Addtional reporting by Beatriz Bajuelos and Allison Lau

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