By Hugo Greenhalgh
LONDON, March 13 (Openly) - Leading LGBT+ dating websites are warning users to take precautions to avoid contracting coronavirus but are expecting an uptick in traffic as millions of people move online to talk rather than meet face-to-face in bars and clubs.
Many, including Hornet, which has 30 million regular users worldwide, have recently added advisory notes on how to avoid contracting the virus which has infected more than 130,000 people globally and caused almost 5,000 deaths.
"We've shared a variety of news articles over the past few days inside the app in addition to sending messaging," Sean Howell, co-founder of Hornet, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email on Thursday.
Part of Hornet's advice is to maintain a social network "but remotely".
More than 100 LGBT+ rights groups this week called on U.S. public health officials to address the vulnerability of gay and trans people, warning that their frequently weakened immune systems due to higher rates of HIV and cancer can put them at risk.
LGBT+ groups are cancelling and delaying a slew of events due to the spread of coronavirus including the 200,000-strong annual Los Angeles Pride parade, which was postponed on Thursday.
Gay dating site Scruff, which has more than 15 million members worldwide, said it had started to send out coronavirus tips from the World Health Organization (WHO) "in chunks of 100,000 until all users are alerted", which should be completed by Friday.
A spokesman for Grindr, the world's best-known gay dating app, which has just launched Grindr Lite aimed at emerging market countries where gay sex might be difficult or illegal, said the company had sent out a notice to users on Thursday.
"We... have published (WHO) guidelines in the Grindr app to help users make the best informed decisions when interacting with others," the spokesman said.
Her and Fem, both aimed at women, did not respond to requests for comment.
Last week, Tinder, which has nearly 6 million subscribers, added an advisory note that users see when swiping between prospective partners to warn over coronavirus.
"Tinder is a great place to meet new people," the note said. "While we want you to continue to have fun, protecting yourself from the coronavirus is more important."
Dating apps, however, might prove to be a lifeline for the LGBT+ community as the coronavirus crisis deepens with the number of people moving online rising, operators said, although adding that exact numbers were as yet unavailable.
"I suspect we will see increases in traffic just like we do in the winter months," said Howell.
"Social and dating apps are often about meeting people (but) they're also about having community and maintaining it online when we can't do it in person." (Additional reporting by Rachel Savage; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Tom Finn Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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