September 28, 2020

Coronavirus: UK considers virus-tracing app to ease lockdown

A coronavirus app that alerts people if they have recently been in contact with someone testing positive for the virus “could play a critical role” in limiting lockdowns, scientists advising the government have said.

The location-tracking tech would enable a week’s worth of manual detective work to be done in an instant, they say.

But the academics say no-one should be forced to enrol – at least initially.

UK health chiefs have confirmed they are exploring the idea.

“NHSX is 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,” said the tech-focused division’s chief Matthew Gould.

Instant alerts
The study by the team at the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute and Nuffield Department of Population Health was published in the journal Science.

It proposes that an app would record people’s GPS location data as they move about their daily lives. This would be supplemented by users scanning QR (quick response) codes posted to public amenities in places where a GPS signal is inadequate, as well as Bluetooth signals.

If a person starts feeling ill, it is suggested they use the app to request a home test. And if it comes back positive for Covid-19, then an instant signal would be sent to everyone they had been in close contact with over recent days.

Those people would be advised to self-isolate for a fortnight, but would not be told who had triggered the warning.

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