Con­tact trac­ing apps ‘not suf­fi­cient to con­tain Covid’

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Technology Intelligen­ce - By Matthew Field

THERE is no “real-world” ev­i­dence con­tact trac­ing apps work and, even with near-uni­ver­sal use, they could still fail to stop the pan­demic spi­ralling out of con­trol, a pa­per has claimed.

Re­search pub­lished in the med­i­cal jour­nal Lancet Dig­i­tal Health found that even un­der an op­ti­mistic sce­nario of 80pc of peo­ple down­load­ing an app and more than 90pc of peo­ple obey­ing quar­an­tine, the tech­nol­ogy alone would not be enough.

The re­search, from Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don, said “au­to­mated” con­tact trac­ing us­ing apps was “un­likely to con­tain Covid-19”. It said other mea­sures in­clud­ing phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing and pub clo­sures may be needed. The team looked at more than 4,000 stud­ies on au­to­mated and par­tially-au­to­mated con­tact trac­ing and found 15 rel­e­vant pa­pers. But most of these stud­ies were ei­ther based on mod­el­ling, or were ob­ser­va­tional or case stud­ies, or did not in­clude the full in­for­ma­tion needed to as­sess the ef­fec­tive­ness of apps.

Dr Robert Aldridge, of UCL In­sti­tute of Health In­for­mat­ics, said: “We do not have good ev­i­dence about whether a no­ti­fi­ca­tion from a smart­phone app is as ef­fec­tive in break­ing chains of trans­mis­sion by giv­ing ad­vice to iso­late due to con­tact with a case of Covid-19 when com­pared to ad­vice pro­vided by a pub­lic health con­tact tracer.

“We ur­gently need to study this ev­i­dence gap and ex­am­ine how au­to­mated ap­proaches can be integrated with ex­ist­ing con­tact trac­ing and dis­ease con­trol, and gen­er­ate ev­i­dence on whether these new dig­i­tal ap­proaches are cost­ef­fec­tive and eq­ui­table.”

The re­search said man­ual con­tact trac­ing, us­ing fol­low up phone calls and vis­its from pub­lic health of­fi­cials, would also be needed in any sys­tem, and that apps had the “po­ten­tial to sup­port that but they are not a panacea”.

Re­search from Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don said au­to­mated apps could be use­ful but were not a panacea

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