Coronavirus tracing app has ‘potential to stop the epidemic’, say Oxford scientists – Channel 4 News


16 Apr 2020

More than half of the population will need to use the app in order to stop the virus completely.

Oxford scientists say that mobile phone apps can be used to “slow or even stop coronavirus”.

But more than half of the UK’s population will need to use the technology – in order for it to be as effective as possible.

The team are today sharing an epidemiological model which will be used to develop the software, in collaboration with the NHS and the Department of Health.

Oxford University said: “The simulations confirm that if around half the population use the app, alongside other interventions, it has the potential to stop the epidemic.”

As well as tracking the spread of coronavirus symptoms, data from the app will also help scientists to control the easing of lockdown laws. This can then be combined with other interventions – like follow up testing and social distancing – to curb the disease.

The scientists explained: “Delaying contact tracing by even a day from the onset of symptoms could make the difference between epidemic control and coronavirus resurgence.”

Similar technology has already been introduced in countries like South Korea, where location data from mobile phones is used for contact tracing. China is also using a range of apps to track coronavirus cases.

In Singapore, an app called “TraceTogether” was the first to use Bluetooth for contact tracing. While Israel is tapping into powerful government surveillance technnology with an app called “The Shield”.

Last week, the technology giants Google and Apple announced they would collaborate to develop an app that can identify people who alert you if you come into contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. But it’s understood that the two companies are not involved in the new UK app being unveiled today.

Professor Christophe Fraser, from Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine, said the technology is based on a simulation in a model city with one million residents.

He said: “Our results suggest a digital contact tracing app, if carefully implemented alongside other measures, has the potential to substantially reduce the number of new coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and ICU admissions.”

“Our models show we can stop the epidemic if approximately 60% of the population use the app.”

But he added: “Lower numbers of app users will also have a positive effect; we estimate that one infection will be averted for every one or two users.”

Scientists said that ethical concerns about sharing data were being addressed, with independent oversight and extensive consultation.

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