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Contact tracing app could prevent two Covid-19 infections per installation

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About one case of coronavirus could be prevented for every one to two people who download a contact tracing app designed to stop the spread, according to Professor Christophe Fraser from Oxford University’s Big Data Institute.

Fraser, who is advising the UK Government, said on the BBC's 'Andrew Marr Show' yesterday (Sunday) that around 60 per cent of the population would need to download the app to prevent a resurgence of the outbreak.

Last week, ministers said they believed that the British public would accept the invasion of privacy entailed by its in-development app due to the benefits it will bring in easing the coronavirus lockdown.

“We found that when we projected over the next three months, for every one to two users who download the app and who adhere to instructions, you’ll prevent one infection,” he told Marr.

“For this intervention alone to stop resurgence of the epidemic, about 60 per cent of the population would have to use the app.

“Now that number may be a bit smaller if there are other interventions going on, which we hope there will be: social distancing, large community testing and, indeed, manual contact tracing.”

He said the app addresses the problem that around 50 per cent of transmissions occur before a person shows symptoms, calling it a “very rapidly transmitted virus”.

“The app is solving a specific problem, which is how do you get the message that you’re at risk and empower you to take measures to protect your friends, your family, your colleagues and the people you have been in contact with.”

His team from Oxford University has demonstrated that almost half of all transmissions occurred before anyone showed symptoms and that delaying contact tracing by even a day from the onset of symptoms could make the difference between epidemic control and coronavirus resurgence.

Experts are aiming to release the NHS app “within weeks”, Fraser told Marr, while a configuration is being developed for healthcare staff who could be exposed to Covid-19 whilst at work.

In Australia, such an app has already been introduced and while some privacy concerns still remain, it has been adopted widely in the short time since release.

The Australian government had hoped one million people would download the 'COVIDSafe' app within five days after it was launched on Sunday evening. By Monday morning, more than 1.1 million people had installed it.

“At 6:00am, it was 1.13 million Australians who had downloaded the app,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told local media on Monday morning. “We got the first million within five hours. We had been hoping, our best hope, was we might get to one million in five days.”

While downloading the app is voluntary, the government says 40 per cent of Australians - around 10 million people - need to acquire the app for it to be a success. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave his assurances that personal privacy would not be compromised by the app: “It’s another tool we need to get back to normal as much as we can.

“No other government agency can use this information, no-one in the Commonwealth Government at all. And in state authorities, only the health officer can use it. Not the police, not the welfare people, nowhere else. Just the health officer.”

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