Epidemiologists say this type of contact tracing promises to contain flare-ups of the virus, but to be part of an effective lockdown-exit strategy, contact tracing will need to be used in conjunction with rapid virus testing and mass adoption.
Apple and Google have joined forces to launch a contact-tracing solution that could potentially help ease countrywide lockdowns. The solution uses application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating-system level technology to more accurately track down those at greatest risk of Covid-19 infection.
Ben Wood, research chief at CCS Insight, a technology market intelligence and advisory firm, says it is difficult to tell at this stage how effective the app will be in controlling the spread of infection. “There are numerous technology-based challenges that need to be overcome, not least the fact that not all phones in use will be able to support the app,” he explains. “You need a smartphone with the right capabilities, such as Bluetooth, for the app to work correctly. This means people with older phones or feature phones will likely miss out, and in many cases they could be the most vulnerable people in society. The other challenge is that it is most likely that people need to install the app, which could be a major barrier.”
China, Singapore, Israel, South Korea and Poland are already using smartphones to issue coronavirus contagion alerts, while the UK, France and Germany are working on initiatives of their own. By allowing existing third-party apps to be retrofitted to include their solution, Apple and Google will make the app interoperable.
Epidemiologists say this type of contact tracing promises to contain flare-ups of the virus, but to be part of an effective lockdown-exit strategy, contact tracing will need to be used in conjunction with rapid virus testing and mass adoption. For those harboring privacy concerns, Wood says he has little doubt there will be major safeguards put in place to ensure that the app is only used for Covid-19 related purposes. “Apple, in particular, has privacy as a major pillar of its brand and will go to great lengths to ensure that data is safeguarded and individuals’ privacy is respected. I am sure Google will do the same, and you can be sure that many regulators and governments will make it a mandatory part of implementing the app.”