A new phone app being developed for the NHS could help the UK fight against Coronavirus – but it needs at least 80% of smartphone users to use it.
The new app uses contact tracing to alert users if they’ve been in contact with someone who has been confirmed to have had Coronavirus. Essentially, users need to report symptoms as they get them. Then, the app uses location data of its users to determine others who may have been in close proximity to the infected party.
But it looks as though it needs a staggering number of users to work effectively.
The University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute has modelled a city of one million people to accurately test the software. They advise aiming for 80% of smartphone users to use the app. But they also report that if there’s a lower volume of users, the app would still help slow the spread of Covid-19.
They explained that allowing users to self-diagnose is a critical step. This could mean a simple questionnaire to determine whether users are exhibiting Coronavirus symptoms. They would not need to speak to a health professional as part of this process.
Once deemed at risk, this would trigger a series of alerts to anyone who had been in close proximity to that particular user. These would then be advised to go into self-isolation.
“There would be more people receiving notifications as a result of false warnings,” explained Prof Christophe Fraser.
“But actually, it results in fewer days of people in self-isolation and quarantine, because the effect of suppressing the epidemic more quickly outweighs the risks in waiting for a test before the notification.”
It’s worth noting that this does not factor in those over the age of 70, who are assumed to still be under lockdown.
“We’re looking at introducing the app towards the end of lockdown,” Prof Fraser added.
“When you install it, it needs a few days to start recording data before it can be fully functional.”
Unfortunately, the new app poses some significant challenges. For one thing, it uses Bluetooth Low Energy technology to function – a feature some mobile phone users still simply don’t have on their device.
Still, it sounds as though this new contact tracing app could be a key component in lifting the current UK-wide lockdown. Used in combination with staggered lockdown lifting and other precautionary measures, this could see the UK return to normal sooner than we thought.