NHSX working on coronavirus contact tracking app

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NHSX is in the process of developing a contact tracking app to monitor the spread of coronavirus.

The app, which would operate on an opt-in basis, would alert people to new cases in their area as well as allowing people to input their own symptoms, Digital Health News understands.

If a person develops symptoms of Covid-19 they will be able to put that information into the app, which will then share that data with relevant health authorities.

That information will be used to track where the virus is spreading and also alert other app users that cases are rising in their area.

Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, said: “NHSX are looking at whether app-based solutions might be helpful in tracking and managing coronavirus, and we have assembled expertise from inside and outside the organisation to do this as rapidly as possible.”

A team of medical research experts at Oxford University are currently exploring the feasibility of a coronavirus mobile app for instant contact tracing.

The team has provided European governments, including the UK, with evidence to support the feasibility of developing an app that is instant and can be widely deployed.

The team recommends that the mobile application should form part of an integrated coronavirus control strategy that identifies infected people and their recent person-to-person contacts using digital technology.

Professor Christophe Fraser, of Oxford University’s Big Data Institute, said: “Coronavirus is unlike previous epidemics and requires multiple inter-dependent containment strategies.

“Our analysis suggests that almost half of coronavirus transmissions occur in the very early phase of infection, before symptoms appear, so we need a fast and effective mobile app for alerting people who have been exposed.

“Our mathematical modeling suggests that traditional public health contact tracing methods are too slow to keep up with this virus.”

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Professor Fraser said the concept of the app is “very simple”.

“If you are diagnosed with coronavirus, the people you’ve recently come into contact with will be messaged advising them to isolate,” he adds.

“If this mobile app is developed and deployed rapidly, and enough people opt-in to use such an approach, we can slow the spread of coronavirus and mitigate against devastating human, economic and social impacts.”

Dr David Bonsall researcher at Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine explained current contact testing strategies are no longer viable.

“At the current stage of the epidemic, contact tracing can no longer be performed effectively by public health officials in the UK, and many countries across Europe, as coronavirus is spreading too rapidly,” he said.

“Our research of early data from other countries shows that patient histories are incomplete – we don’t know the details of the person we sat next to on the bus. We need an instantaneous and anonymous digital solution to confirm our person-to-person contact history.”

The team are currently simulating performance of the app, which could be combined with social distancing measures.

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