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How would people like coronavirus contact-tracing to be carried out?

Image credit: Andrei Fedco/Dreamstime

A study has found that people would prefer contact-tracing for coronavirus to be carried out by a combination of apps and humans.

The research, conducted by a team at the University of Exeter, found that people are more concerned about who runs the process than the risks of others having unauthorised access to their private information, or their data being stolen. Most people who took part in the research were in favour of the NHS processing personal data rather than the government, or even a decentralised system, that stores only minimal personal data. 

“Our research shows people are supportive of the NHS storing and using their personal information,” said Professor Susan Banducci. “Faith and trust in the NHS are high at the moment so it may motivate people to take part in the process if the government involves the health service in its development and deployment. Trust in the provider of contact-tracing will be crucial if it is to be used successfully to reduce the spread of infection.”

A total of 41 per cent of those questioned in the study preferred a mixture of an app and human contact during the tracing process. This compares to 22 per cent who wanted it purely to be run via contact with another person and 37 per cent who wanted the process to be only digital.

The team at Exeter ran an experiment on 1,504 people who were given information about two apps through a series of five pairings, with their properties relating to privacy and data security, displayed randomly, and asked which they would prefer to use. In a second study, the team also surveyed 809 people about their preferences for how apps should be run and designed.

The decentralised system of contact-tracing was chosen by participants with a 50 per cent probability, meaning this particular design didn’t influence people’s choice.

Meanwhile, the probability of people choosing the app designed to work as part of an NHS-led centralised system was 57 per cent, meaning it was more popular, while 43 per cent of apps chosen were described as having data which would be stored on servers belonging to the UK government, making them less popular.

A randomly selected group of people were also informed about the risk of data breach issues, but this didn’t have an impact on people’s preferences, the researchers said.

In other news, a research project has been set up to test whether 5,000 staff and pupils at schools have active or past Covid-19 infection, develop systems to help schools prevent and cope with an outbreak, and assess strategies to support the mental wellbeing of the school community now and moving forward.

The project, Covid-19 Mapping and Mitigation in Schools (CoMMinS), will be led by the University of Bristol and is funded by a £2.7m NIHR-UKRI Covid-19 rapid response initiative.

Little is known about the transmission patterns of Covid-19 in schoolchildren, how patterns of infection among pupils might impact the wider community or the long-term consequences of school closure on the health of pupils.

Limiting the transmission of coronavirus in schools is challenging because children with Covid-19 often show no obvious symptoms and schoolchildren typically interact with a large number of other children and adults.

The project will involve people across many sectors, including data scientists and engineers, and infection patterns will be mapped across the city of Bristol to highlight areas that may need more support. 

Furthermore, the Germ Defence app, which currently gives practical advice to adults to reduce infection spread in the home, will be adapted for use by children, teachers, and parents in schools to help everyone reduce the infection rate at school and in the community. 

This study was published before the UK government announced that a new NHS contact-tracing app will be launched across England and Wales from 24 September

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