Contact Tracing Apps May Not Be Able To Help Control Spread Of COVID-19, Says New Study
Among the several solutions that came up in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, contact tracing through smartphone apps became a mandate in many parts of the world. A new study now shows that such efforts might after all be useless.
Now published in the journal Lancet Digital Health, the study highlights that contact tracing apps, just? by themselves, are very unlikely to curb the spread of COVID-19. Other, more practical measures like social distancing and use of masks need to be followed for any effect whatsoever.
For the study, the researchers reviewed 4,033 research papers published between January, 2000 and April, 2020. Among the heap of information processed, 15 research papers offered useful data.
Through these reviews, the researchers wanted to understand the potential impact of these tools in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Across a number of modelling studies, we found a consistent picture that although automated contact tracing could support manual contact tracing, the systems will require large-scale uptake by the population and strict adherence to quarantine advice by contacts notified to have a significant impact on reducing transmission," said lead author Isobel Braithwaite from University College London (UCL).
Not enough by itself
The study does not propose to give away with such automated contact tracing solutions. It instead, highlights that there is insufficient evidence to justify the use of automated contact tracing approaches without additional extensive public health control measures.
"None of the studies we found provided real-world evidence of their effectiveness, and to improve our understanding of how they could support manual contact tracing systems," Braithwaite said.
"Although automated contact tracing shows some promise in helping reduce transmission of COVID-19 within communities, our research highlighted the urgent need for further evaluation of these apps within public health practice," Braithwaite added.
It should be noted that while we do not have much evidence of an automated contact tracing system working better than a manual system, these automated systems raise several concerns in themselves.
First, they rely on the general population of a region to have a smartphone, rendering the practice useless in some regions.
Additionally, several of these apps have raised security and privacy concerns to the users time and again.
"We should be mindful that automated approaches raise potential privacy and ethics concerns, and also rely on high smartphone ownership, so they may be of very limited value in some countries," Braithwaite said.
Too much reliance on automated contact tracing apps is hence, bad, as it may “increase the risk of COVID-19 for vulnerable and digitally-excluded groups such as older people,” Braithwaite added.
(With inputs from PTI)