Are COVID-19 Contact Tracing Apps as Effective as They Claim?

Contact tracing apps which use GPS and Bluetooth are surely helping the authorities in tracking the COVID-19 spread; however, are they as effective as they claim? This is something that we need to think about.

According to experts, a contact tracing app could help in stopping the spread of the coronavirus only if 80% of the smartphone users download the app. Also, a recent study declared that broad adoption of a contact tracing app and the speed of usage are two critical factors which help in stopping the spread of the virus.

Developers and researchers across the world have been in a race to design protocols which can gain public trust and result in wide adoption. They’ve also been receiving ample support from the technology giants such as Google and Apple. They are in the process of introducing a common platform via an operating-system update which has received a lot of praises from the cryptographers. Nevertheless, it is not guaranteed that a contact tracing app will function as intended to help in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

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Apart from privacy concerns, there is another practical challenge that needs to be dealt with when we talk about these apps, i.e. the accurate measurements which need to be made of how close two devices are. There can be variation in signal strength based on the orientation of the phone and depends on whether the phone is in a person’s hand or his/her pocket. Also, the other challenge is to ensure enough people download these apps to make it as effective as they claim. 

Experts believe that an app which is based on symptoms could make a massive difference in stopping the virus spread instead of waiting for the test results. Introducing contact tracing apps based on symptoms makes more sense epidemiologically since it will be quick to reach people before they transmit the virus.

With the help of interventions such as persistent shielding of vulnerable individuals and community testing, contact tracing apps can help in preventing COVID-19 from rapidly re-emerging.

To save lives, to bring down the number of individuals in self-isolation, and to support as many people as possible, we need to aim at combining these apps with ethical principles and vital epidemiological parameters.

For any clarifications/feedback on the topic, please contact the writer at bhavana.pn@cleartax.in

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