An Oxford University study recommends countries to explore digital contact-tracing to speed up their preventive actions
The contact-tracing app works with the help of a central server, which is updated in real-time with new covid-19 cases
New Delhi: A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford shows that the spread of the novel coronavirus is too fast to be contained by manual contact-tracing alone, and thus, recommends countries to explore the digital route to speed up their preventive actions.
The study comes at a time when India, with a total of 1,590 infected persons so far, races against time to trace contacts of positive cases and put them in quarantine.
According to scientists, the traditional approach of manual case isolation, contact tracing and quarantine are not fast enough for SARS-CoV-2, which has stunned the world for its high speed of transmission, infecting over 8.6 lakh people in just three months.
And, by the time health authorities confirm a positive case and reach out to his/her contacts, the virus already infects a number of people. A delay of even a few days in finding the contacts could render these measures ineffective.
“Specifically, this delay can be avoided by using a mobile phone app, if used by a sufficient number of people," concluded the researchers in a paper published in the journal Science. Such an approach could keep incidence of new infections low.
The contact-tracing app works with the help of a central server, which is updated in real-time with new positive covid-19 cases. The app builds a memory of proximity contacts based on GPS locations.
As soon as one person in the network requests a SARS-COV-2 test using the app and gets ‘positive’ result, it triggers an instant notification to possible close contacts, recommending necessary quarantine measures, while preserving the anonymity of the infected individual.
The app allows the central database to collect data on user movement and coronavirus diagnosis and displays a green, amber or red code to relax or enforce restrictions on movement using Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Similar applications have been used by China and South Korea, which have achieved significant success in suppressing the epidemic. Fewer than 150 new cases have been reported each day during 2-23 March in China, down from thousands each day at the peak of the epidemic. South Korea too had brought down new cases from 909 on 29 February to 76 on 24 March.
But, since the usage of the app involves data protection and privacy issues, the study says there is need for careful oversight and people should be democratically entitled to decide whether to adopt this platform or not.
“The intention is not to impose the technology as a permanent change to society, but we believe it is currently necessary and justified to protect public health. We recommend urgent exploration of means for intelligent physical distancing via digital contact tracing," the researchers concluded.
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