This evidence is enabling several international partners, including the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) and NHSX, a joint unit comprised of teams from NHS England and the UK’s Department of Health & Social Care, to assess the feasibility of developing mobile apps for instant contact tracing in record time. If rapidly and widely developed, these mobile apps could help to significantly slow the rate of transmission, and support countries to emerge from lockdowns safely, as restrictions are gradually eased.
Professor Christophe Fraser from Oxford University’s Big Data Institute (BDI), Nuffield Department of Medicine (NDM), a lead author on the Science paper explains, “We need a mobile contact tracing app to urgently support health services to control coronavirus transmission, target interventions and keep people safe. Our analysis suggests that about half of transmissions occur in the early phase of the infection, before you show any symptoms of infection. Our mathematical models also highlight that traditional public health contact tracing approaches provide incomplete data and cannot keep up with the pace of this pandemic.”
The project is co-led by Dr David Bonsall, senior researcher at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Medicine and clinician at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, who explains “The mobile app concept we’ve mathematically modelled is simple and doesn’t need to track your location; it uses a low-energy version of Bluetooth to log a memory of all the app users with whom you have come into close proximity over the last few days. If you then become infected, these people are alerted instantly and anonymously, and advised to go home and self-isolate. If app users decide to share additional data, they could support health services to identify trends and target interventions to reach those most in need.”