Contact tracing app could help prevent Covid-19 infections

Contact tracing app to be released in weeks could prevent one Covid-19 infection for every one or two who download it says Oxford University professor

  • Professor Christophe Fraser heaped support on the NHS’s contact tracing app
  • He said 60 per cent of UK population – or 40 million – would need to download it
  • The contact tracing app could be the key to bringing the UK out of lockdown 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

A contact tracing app could prevent one Covid-19 infection for every one to two users who download it, an expert advising the government has said.

Professor Christophe Fraser, from Oxford University’s Big Data Institute, heaped praise on the app but said 60 per cent of the UK population – or 40 million people – would need to download it for it to prove effective.

NHSX has been working with Google and Apple to develop the phone app, which should be available ‘within weeks’. It was tested at an RAF base in North Yorkshire this week.

The app could hold the key to bringing the UK out of lockdown and back to normality.

Professor Christophe Fraser, from Oxford University’s Big Data Institute, said 60 per cent of the UK population will need to sign up to the app for it to prove effective. Matt Hancock has supported the app’s roll out

Professor Fraser pictured speaking about the app on the Andrew Marr show today


According to the researchers, the app being developed by NHSX would likely work as follows:

Prof Fraser told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show that traditional contact tracing methods would not be as effective as the NHS app.

‘We found that when we projected over the next three months, for every one to two users who download the app and who adhere to instructions, you’ll prevent one infection,’ he said.

‘For this intervention alone to stop resurgence of the epidemic, about 60% of the population would have to use the app.

‘Now that number may be a bit smaller if there are other interventions going on, which we hope there will be, social distancing, large community testing, and indeed manual contact tracing.’

Prof Fraser said the app addresses the problem that around 50 per cent of transmissions occur before a person shows symptoms – calling it a ‘very rapidly transmitted virus’.

He said: ‘The app is solving a specific problem, which is how do you get the message that you’re at risk and empower you to take measures to protect your friends, your family, your colleagues and the people you have been in contact with.’

Experts are aiming to release the NHS app ‘within weeks’, he told the programme, while a configuration is being developed for healthcare staff who could be exposed to Covid-19 whilst at work.

Asked if he thought pursuing a contact tracing app earlier could have saved lives, Prof Fraser said: ‘I think so. I worked on the SARS epidemic in 2003 and testing and tracing is really a cornerstone of how you stop a serious infection.

‘And I do think that strategy scaled up is tremendously effective.’

Nevertheless, the app coupled with social distancing efforts would still help to slow the spread of COVID-19 and put off a second lockdown period. In fact, the team predicts that a contact-tracing app could ‘prevent approximately one infection for every one or two users of the app’

An NHS contact-tracing app would only completely stop the spread of coronavirus if 60 per cent of current smartphone owners use it, researchers have warned

He estimated that between 3 per cent and 10 per cent of the population could now have had the disease.

‘There’s uncertainty around this but I would say nationally, somewhere between sort of three and maybe up to 10 per cent of the population would have had coronavirus by this stage,’ he said.

‘We’re still waiting for the definitive studies based on immunological assays, but this is based on our understanding base of the spread of coronavirus.’

Asked if it could be ‘several million people, up to six million’, he replied: ‘That kind of figure – probably a bit less.’

The UK government has continued to race to meet its coronavirus testing target of 100,000 today, as it faces ever louder calls to announce a plan to end the lockdown.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to return to Downing Street on Monday following a two week break at Chequers to recover from the virus.

Pictured above is a contact-tracing app being used in Germany to halt the spread of coronavirus

He spent a week in Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital, London, and three days in intensive care fighting off the disease. 

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab rejected calls for an earlier easing of the coronavirus lockdown today, stressing the government aimed to move cautiously to avoid a second wave.

He has refused to reveal details of how the UK will exit lockdown, despite the Welsh and Scottish ministers publishing their strategies.

Nicola Sturgeon has hinted that Scotland may lift its lockdown at a different pace to the rest of the UK.

It has also been hinted that the UK will begin asking new arrivals to quarantine for 14 days, after letting at least 15,000 people in every week without checks. 


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