• Harrison Jones

COVID 19: How Do Contact Tracing Apps Work?

Updated: May 20, 2020

In Singapore, we saw a high level of success initially through the use of contact tracing. But how do contact tracing apps work?

COVID 19: How Do Contact Tracing Apps Work?

Why Did Singapore Adopt A Contact Tracing Strategy?

COVID 19: How Do Contact Tracing Apps Work?

In the early stages, it was clear that the number of new infections would take a couple of weeks to spike. Singapore's authorities decided that contact tracing via apps and Bluetooth would be an effective solution. It certainly paid off in the early stages, however, infections have since spiked in the last fortnight - Although the actual figures show a big day on day percentage increase, the figures themselves are much lower than what they could have been, without the use of stringent lock down measures and effective contact tracing.

The main way that a contact tracing app works is by isolating potential patients of the virus quicker than usual. In a normal scenario, somebody infected wouldn't take it upon themselves to isolate until they begin experiencing symptoms, sometimes the most minor symptoms don't encourage people to isolate. The number of cases in Singapore could have easily been up close to the likes of the UK, Spain and Italy, were it not for the effective and early use of contact tracing strategies.

COVID 19: How Do Contact Tracing Apps Work?

How Do The Contact Tracing Apps Work?

COVID 19: How Do Contact Tracing Apps Work?

Let's take Singapore's new application as an example. TraceTogether is a government-developed app designed to help authorities identify those people who may have come into close contact with someone who has coronavirus. Utilising the exchange of Bluetooth signals, the app will store any close encounters into the user's phone. In the event that a close encounter is noticed by contact tracers, the app's monitoring team (government authority workers), can directly contact the person at hand either through the app's notification centre or by calling them directly. This will encourage the person who came into close contact to either begin isolating or to carefully monitor their health in case any mild symptoms begin to develop.

In terms of the privacy protection arising from using this app, phone owners won't have their personal data stored or logged into the app, nor will it notify authorities where the contact actually happened. All of the data is encrypted, and the government will only be able to request data from the user should they come into contact with someone who currently has the virus.

Depending on how efficient TraceTogether is, there may be additional contacts who are notified when somebody has come into close contact with a person who has since tested positive. Close relatives and co-workers who are added to the person's contact tracing contacts may also get a notification, in order to encourage them to keep their distance from that said person should they either live in the same household or work with them.

COVID 19: How Do Contact Tracing Apps Work?

Can Contract Tracing Stop Coronavirus?

COVID 19: How Do Contact Tracing Apps Work?

Unfortunately, the most a contact tracing app can do is ensure that people are made aware of a new case that they have been into close contact with. This means that there may be a period of hours or days between when the person is flagged as having been into close contact with a coronavirus patient, and when the contact actually happened, this means that person can still spread the coronavirus without realising. Even being asymptomatic can enable the spread of coronavirus, and people will end up spreading this virus without realising if they are out exercising, or shopping etc.

The importance of the contact tracing app is to greatly reduce the number of new cases, to ensure health systems can cope and the possibility of relaxed lock down measures can be considered by Singapore's government. Contact tracing apps can encourage people who have come into close contact to text their family or co-workers, to warn them that they may have caught the virus, this can reduce the re-infection rate and keep it under 1, which is the main aim of contact tracing really.

TraceTogether already has over 1 million users active, and this is likely to grow, as the Singapore government has sent out a public request for people to download the contact tracing app onto their phones. It is hoped that by getting the majority of Singapore citizens and residents, as well as migrant workers, onboard, Singapore can get the rate of new infections down to how they were in February or March, and match the likes of Australia and New Zealand, who have also adopted contact tracing strategies and are now seeing rates of new infections in the single digits.

TraceTogether can be downloaded from the Google Play store for Android phones, and via the App Store for iPhone users.

Thank you for reading 'COVID 19: How Do Contact Tracing Apps Work?' by IT Block. IT Block is an IT support services company based in Singapore and a registered Google News source.

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