The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is finalising the release of a contact tracing app designed to slow the rate of infection for COVID-19. The tracing app, developed by the digital unit NHSx, is based on the evidence provided by a team of Oxford epidemiologists, mathematical modellers and ethicists in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, based at the Big Data Institute.
The COVID-19 tracing app will be released as part of a broader test, track and trace strategy devised to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The app uses simple Bluetooth technology that records close proximity contacts between two smartphone users. If a user then develops symptoms, they can choose to anonymously alert the contacts with whom they have been in close proximity.
Professor Christophe Fraser, co-lead on the mobile tracing app programme at Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine explains, “Our studies identified very early on that a large proportion of infections happen before people develop any symptoms. Once we understand how much silent transmission is happening, we realise a rapid and widespread solution is needed to capture and notify close contacts of a suspected case. We now have a large team of manual contact tracers undergoing training, but we know from our experience early on in the epidemic that manual contact tracing alone wasn’t fast enough to stay on top of the virus. Our evidence suggests that the app could provide the most effective early warning system, as soon as someone first develops symptoms. Success will rely on close integration of the app into a coordinated test and trace programme. The app is being fine-tuned ready for launch to ensure if can reduce the greatest number of onward infections and help to save many lives.”