Global organisations and Governments worldwide have developed apps to give citizens COVID-19 updates, situation reports, health risk assessments, a tracker of the spread of the disease throughout the country as well as the rate and numbers of infected.
The Value in Apps is the Functionality to Contact Trace
These apps have been available pretty much from the beginning of the outbreak but what is taking a little longer to develop and release to the public; and where the value lies in helping the authorities to slow and manage the spread of the coronavirus, is the functionality to contact trace.
An increasing number of Governments are preparing to release contact tracing apps to help quickly identify individuals who have been exposed to the virus and to contact them immediately in a bid to stop further spread of the virus.
Contact Tracing apps are considered key in helping governments flatten the curve of the virus spread.
Traditional Contact Tracing Methods are too Slow and Transmission of the Virus is Fast
One of the main reasons Governments are keen to introduce a Contract Tracing app to the public is that traditional contract tracing methods are too slow. Transmission of the virus is fast, while many of the infected do not show symptoms straight away, by the time authorities have identified those who have been exposed, they have already transmitted the virus to others.
Traditional contact tracing methods are labour intensive, using resources that could be better deployed elsewhere during the pandemic, this includes coveted resources such as hospital staff, health officials and police services.
Contact Tracing using a smartphone app is more accurate – traditional methods of tracing rely on the memory of those who have been infected. Human error is only natural, and remembering exact times and locations is not always easy, especially if unwell or perhaps not able to respond to investigative questioning on past movements.
Data from apps would provide an extensive log of the patients’ past activities, exact times and locations and with its Bluetooth capabilities then identify those who had been in their vicinity and how long they would have been exposed to them. It would also make contacting exposed individuals much easier and quicker.
Although the benefits are immeasurable to protect public safety, it has raised questions about personal data, privacy laws and government surveillance on its’ citizens. Most governments have taken the approach that it is an ‘opt-in’ resource, urging people to join in a collective effort to help their country and their people.
Singapore Contact Tracing – leads by example
Many countries are following the model Singapore has used. The government launched an app called TraceTogether on 20 March and already has over 910,000 users.
The TraceTogether app uses Bluetooth signals to determine if an individual is near another TraceTogether user. The Bluetooth proximity data is encrypted and stored only on the users’ phone. The Ministry of Health (MOH) will seek consent to upload the data if needed for contact tracing.
Singapore has made its COVID-19 contract tracing app open source to help developers around the world to build local solutions. And many countries are doing just that.
Countries inspired by Singapore Aim to Launch Contract Tracing App as Soon as Possible
Malaysia and Australia have openly said they are interested in replicating an app similar to Singapore’s TraceTogether app.
According to the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Khairy Jamaluddin, Malaysia is currently preparing a smartphone application to track citizen movements.
The federal government in Australia launched a COVID-19 app last weekend, without contact tracing functionality, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that they are working on this capability. It is thought that there may be an app with contact tracing functionality launched this week as the government have been briefed by a private-sector group which have developed an app called ImpactApp.
The National Health Service in the UK is in talks to roll out a smartphone app that instantly traces close contacts of people carrying the coronavirus and advises them to self-isolate. The app, developed by NHSX – the health service’s digital transformation body along with academic and industry partners is in advanced stages of evaluation and they are hoping to deploy within weeks.
Germany also hopes to launch a smartphone app within weeks to help trace coronavirus infections, with the aim of adopting an approach similar to that of Singapore, an effective app that does not invade people’s privacy or break European privacy laws.
With digital contact tracing becoming a more important priority to the government, as well as being an integral part of the government strategy to combat this pandemic, these smartphone apps could lead to a substantial number of lives being saved and critical to protecting public safety.