By Hasan Chowdhury
A rise in coronavirus cases can be curbed even with low uptakes of a contact tracing app, offering support to digital tracing efforts pushed by governments globally, according to researchers at Google and Oxford University.
A study undertaken in three counties in the US state of Washington found that an uptake of a contact tracing app as low as 15pc could reduce infections by up to 15pc and deaths by 11pc when paired to a “well-staffed” manual contact tracing workforce.
Researchers also found that the higher the uptake of contact tracing, the greater the impact on keeping Covid-19 infections down, with a 75pc adoption reducing deaths by almost 80pc.
The research contradicts previous advice that contact tracing apps need at least a 60pc adoption rate to be effective.
Professor Christophe Fraser, a co-author of the research and scientific advisor to the UK government’s test and trace programme, claimed the findings suggest an app should be used alongside measures such as social distancing until Covid-19 is “under control”.
“We see that all levels of exposure notification uptake levels in the UK and the USA have the potential to meaningfully reduce the number of coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and deaths across the population,” he said.
The study has not yet been peer reviewed, while the vast majority of the researchers were from Google. But the findings will offer some hope to backers of contact tracing apps, which have been accused of being ineffective by detractors.
In Britain, the government proposed a contact tracing app back in March, that it said would make use of bluetooth technology on smartphones to register contact with others nearby and alert them if they are later found to have contact with someone who tests positive.
Critics initially warned that an NHS contact tracing app would need a high level uptake to be of use amid concerns that few people would be inclined to download an app to their smartphones over privacy concerns.
The research comes as an alternate, decentralised Google-Apple contact tracing app started trials last month among residents on the Isle of Wight and the London borough of Newham.
It emerged last week that Apple was preparing to launch a version of its contact tracing technology that could operate without the need of an app, instead being offered as a service through a software update on iPhones. – telegraph.co.uk