Can apps help lift the lockdown and are contact tracing apps the answer?

As the pandemic takes over the world, we look at how apps can help aid lockdown with the introduction of contact tracing apps.

As the pandemic takes over the world, technology is being stretched to new limits to help prevent the spread of the virus. New devices and technologies are being created by an array of organisations to assist in the fight against coronavirus. For example, car manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz have used their pioneering technology, to help make ventilation devices to ease the shortage of conventional breathing ventilators. With this in mind, there is vast potential for current technology. Mobile applications can be adapted and used in the fight against the spread of coronavirus. 

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As the virus continues to show no signs of slowing down, the debate has shifted from getting rid of the virus altogether to adapting populations to live through the outbreak. In a bid to help control the pandemic, societies are faced with long-lasting repercussions for people and the economy. Although technology has advanced over the years, the possibility of a vaccine for the virus is still considered to be more than a year away, even though clinical trials are looking positive. Authorities and governments around the world are trying to restore some normality, and one way to do this may be to use mobile applications.

One concept that is being used in many parts of the world is technology to trace people who are Covid-19 positive. The contact tracing app is used to follow the movement of a person's smartphone using already existing technology such as Bluetooth low energy sensors. The app would work by using the Bluetooth sensors in smartphones to detect when a person has come in contact or in close proximity of a person with symptoms or tested positive of Covid-19. The app would be able to warn potential catchers by sending them a notification. 

The app can also beneficially warn people who have come into contact with someone who may be asymptomatic, or someone who may not know they had the virus at the time. Although contact tracing can still be done the traditional way via interviews with patients, doing so is time-consuming and dangerous for frontline staff. Interview testing also relies on memory, which introduces issues of its own such as not being able to identify people correctly. Contact tracing apps could eradicate this issue and give governments the confidence to ease lockdown measures. 

Countries around the world have recently announced interest in developing their own tools and contact tracing applications. The United States, France and the UK have claimed that they are beginning advances on contact tracing technology to be deployed shortly to help monitor the spread of Covid-19. The interest in developing these types of apps follow the success of them being used in countries such as Singapore, China and South Korea, who thanks to implementing these apps, have been able to relax lockdown measures and slow the spread of the virus. 

Rather than using GPs for contact tracing apps, Bluetooth is used as it can record contact between people via their phones rather than using their locations at all times, which is more precise. GPS has many flaws and is challenging to use in some places due to breaches in privacy. GPS also significantly drains the battery life of smartphones which would make even using the contact tracing apps less-attractive to consumers, deterring them away from it. 

A sporadic but equally very needed collaboration has been brought on by the pandemic. Apple and Google have joined forces and announced that they have been working on developing contact-tracing technology via the use of Bluetooth. During May, the companies will release APIs for programmers to access applications and data that will make it easier to develop contact tracing apps for those who wish to make them. One of the most significant benefits to come from this collaboration is the possibility of Apple and Android phones being able to interact with one another, which has not been possible in the past.

The virus has most definitely brought about many changes. Life as we once knew would not exist, but the birth of a new normal is on the horizon. By using apps and collaborations between tech giants along with using existing technology in new ways, we will surely be able to overcome the battle against the virus. 

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