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Tracing apps effective at reducing deaths even with low uptake, Oxford researchers find

Epidemiologists have suggested that contact tracing apps could reduce the transmission of infections, even with low levels of app uptake. Modelling by Google Research and Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Medicine showed that infections could be reduced by 8% and deaths by 6%, with just 15% of a population using the app.

These findings were based on a combination of Oxford’s epidemiological model, OpenABM-Covid19, and data from a study conducted in Washington State which engaged in the usage of the Exposure Notification Systems contact-tracing application. Real-world data taken from the three largest counties in the state – King, Pierce, and Snohomish – were used as sources for this study.

The study shows that a higher number of Exposure Notification Systems regular app users led to greater reductions in the number of COVID-19 transmissions. The study includes different scenarios and outcomes which allow policymakers to anticipate phased re-openings and the loosening of COVID-19 social restrictions, while still attempting to keep the pandemic within control.

Professor Christophe Fraser, scientific advisor to the UK Government Test & Trace Programme and Group Leader in Pathogen Dynamics at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Medicine, said: “We’ve been exploring different digital contact tracing uptake levels for some time in the UK. We see that all levels of exposure notification uptake levels in the UK and the USA have the potential to meaningfully reduce the number of coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and deaths across the population.”

He also adds that contract-tracing apps should not be standalone initiatives, but should be integrated with other preventative measures such as social distancing and restricted travel. 

Similarly, Dr David Bonsall, scientific advisor to the UK Government Test & Trace Programme and senior researcher at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Medicine, stated: “Lockdowns and travel restrictions are damaging to society so we need smarter, more efficient systems that notify only the people at risk and keep the rest of us moving freely.”

In regards to cross-border collaboration and contact-tracing interoperability, senior researcher Dr Robert Hinch, from Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Medicine, said: “We’d like to gather further evidence to assess to what extent coordinated deployments of digital exposure notification applications and public health policies result in the more effective COVID-19 infection control, and continue to find ways to ensure the maximum impact for often limited testing, tracing and isolation resources.” 

Image credit to Card Mapr/ Unsplash.

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