What is coronavirus contact-tracing technology and how does it work?

Edited By: Bharat Sharma WION Web Team
New Delhi, India Published: Apr 17, 2020, 10:25 PM(IST)

Ireland to track patients using an application Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

Nearly 2.14 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally

With the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of slowing its spread, governments across the world are trying to use mobile technology to trace people thought to have the virus. But how do these mobile contact-tracing apps work, and can they help in flattening the curve?

Nearly 2.14 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally.

More than 200 countries across the world have declared a war on this invisible enemy. But no one has managed to defeat it yet.

Coronavirus can only be contained if those infected are successfully isolated and treated. And this is where bluetooth-driven contact-tracing apps can come in handy.

So what is this technology about?

  • The first step is obviously to download the app. The user then needs to update his or her COVID-19 status.
  • These apps use the phone’s bluetooth technology to determine if a given user came in close proximity with an infected person.
  • If it happens, it alerts the user with a notification and urges him to get tested and self-isolate.
  • In principle, this system is more efficient than traditional contact-tracing methods that require the concerned staff to interview patients about their travels.
  • Many countries have already adopted this technology, and others are likely to follow suit.

Singapore is the first country to have implemented contact-tracing via bluetooth with an app called “trace together.”

India’s Arogya Setu app also works on the same technology.

Other countries such as Israel, China, and South Korea are also using similar apps to contain the spread of the deadly virus.

Tech giants like Apple and Google are working on new tools to make app-based tracing more effective.

The companies say their technology could enable apps to monitor contacts for a 14-day period.

Eventually, the process of digital tracing could help authorities relax lockdowns in some parts and enable more selective quarantines.

In other words, it can help decision makers determine which areas are relatively safer.

Is it effective?

  • Researchers say that digital tracing can be effective only if 60 per cent of the population downloads the app and updates their status.
  • Experts believe that contact tracing is helpful only in countries where mass testing is available.
  • There are privacy-related concerns around contact-tracing apps. Privacy advocates worry that such a database could be a hackers’ goldmine.
  • Some researchers say contact-tracing can be implemented while protecting privacy. Although this will vary from app to app in each country.

The technology looks promising, but it needs the support of users to be effective.

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