By Emilie Collins | Contributor
Developers of the NHS contact-tracing app have revealed this week that the app has prevented an estimated 600,000 cases so far, giving some of the first insights into the long-term effectiveness of the app.
After months of delays to the availability of the app, it first became accessible to the general public on 24th September last year, becoming an integral part of the NHS Test and Trace service. It has since been downloaded by just over a third of the population of England and Wales, with Scotland, Northern Ireland, Jersey and Gibraltar all having separate versions of a contact-tracing app.
The app alerts users as to when they have been in contact with somebody who has later tested positive for Covid-19. Alongside this, the app can also be used to check symptoms, book a test and enter positive or negative test results. At time of press, around 1.7 million users have been told to self-isolate by the app since its introduction, with over 3.1 million test results having been entered indicating that it may have had a huge effect on controlling the virus.
Naturally, the more people who have the app downloaded, the more effective it will have been. The scientists at The Alan Turing Institute and Oxford University, who developed the app, have shown that the numbers of Covid-19 cases in the population drops by 2.3% for ever 1% increase in app users. However, a quarter of those who initially downloaded it have since uninstalled the app, partly due to fears of being told to self-isolate unnecessarily. These fears may not have been entirely imagined, as during the initial stages of the app’s public release, users encountered confusing phantom notifications alerting them to self-isolate which then disappeared when clicked on. Equally, in another early error with the app, it may have failed to alert thousands of users that they should self-isolate after the government admitted it was set at the wrong sensitivity.
However, despite the trials and tribulations that the app has faced, it has ultimately played a vital role in averting hundreds of thousands of cases and will have prevented the loss of many lives. The app could also play an integral role in the future, with suggestions for to expand its features to confirm vaccine or test result status, when international borders can reopen.