A team of medical research and bioethics experts at Oxford University are supporting several European governments to explore the feasibility of a coronavirus mobile app for instant contact tracing. 

If rapidly and widely deployed, the infectious disease experts believe such an app could significantly help to contain the spread of coronavirus. 

The Oxford University team has provided European governments, including the UK, with evidence to support the feasibility of developing a contact tracing mobile app that is instant, could be widely deployed, and should be implemented with appropriate ethical considerations. 

The team recommends that the mobile application should form part of an integrated coronavirus control strategy that identifies infected people and their recent person-to-person contacts using digital technology.

Professor Fraser’s team at Oxford University’s Big Data Institute are continuing to simulate performance of the application so it could be adjusted to include mobile app guided coronavirus testing, and/or provide targeted responses in areas with particularly high rates of transmission.

Christophe Fraser from Oxford University’s Big Data Institute, Nuffield Department of Medicine, said: “Coronavirus is unlike previous epidemics and requires multiple inter-dependent containment strategies. The instant mobile app concept is very simple. If you are diagnosed with coronavirus, the people you’ve recently come into contact with will be messaged advising them to isolate. If this mobile app is developed and deployed rapidly, and enough people opt-in to use such an approach, we can slow the spread of coronavirus and mitigate against devastating human, economic and social impacts.”

He added: “Current strategies are not working fast enough to intercept transmission of coronavirus. To effectively tackle this pandemic, we need to harness 21st century technology. Our research makes the case for a mobile application that accelerates our ability to trace infected people and provides vital information that keeps communities safe from this pandemic.”

David Bonsall, researcher at Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine and clinician at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, commented: “Our findings confirm that not everybody has to use the mobile app for it to work. If with the help of the app the majority of individuals self-isolate on showing symptoms, and the majority of their contacts can be traced, we stand a chance of stopping the epidemic.”

He added: “To work, this approach needs to be integrated into a national programme, not taken on by independent app developers. If we can securely deploy this technology, the more people that opt-in, the faster the epidemic will stop, and the more lives can be saved.” 

Date published: March 17, 2020

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