NHS Covid-19 engineer talks about updates, pingdemic and data

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The NHS Covid-19 app will be updated next week to allow people to add their vaccination status to omit isolation.

The update, which will take effect on Monday (August 16), will mean that those with a double-click will not have to isolate themselves if the app “pings” them.

Users of the app will be able to include their vaccination status in the app and will be advised to request a PCR test if they have come in contact with someone who has tested positive.

The Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed this week that, as of August 16, people with double spikes or under the age of 18 will no longer be legally required to isolate themselves if they identify as a close contact. a positive case of Covid-19.

Wolfgang Emmerich, founder of Zühlke Engineering, who helped build the app, told Digital Health News: “Basically, testing will replace the isolation of people with double-edged sword and this is a policy change that applies. a tot Test and Trace “.

Speaking after one upgrade to the app Emmerich said he saw isolation notices being sent to close contacts within two days instead of five days, while isolation notices would likely decrease the length of insulation required.

“The first time we see the impact [of the update] it’s actually next Thursday (August 19) when we post this week’s data, ”he said.

“I would expect the number of notifications to drop a bit. I’m not sure the total number of days of isolation will drop much, as the app counts the isolation as ten days from the time of risk contact, not from the time a positive test was introduced.

“Most people will now be asked to isolate for 9 or 10 days.”

“Pingdemic”: The app did what it was designed to do

In response to public reaction about the amount of isolation warnings sent by the app, Emmerich said the app went “exactly what we designed it to do.”

In the week ending July 28, more than 388,265 isolation notices were sent through the app, a notable drop from a record high of more than 600,000 the week of July 15-21.

“The number of pings is strictly correlated with the total number of infections, so the reason there were more pings is because there were actually more viruses,” Emmerich told Digital Health News.

“I think the app did its job and continues to do its job, and we’ll probably keep it running for a while.”

Oxford University’s independent analysis suggests that the application avoided up to 2,000 cases of Covid-19 a day during the first three weeks of July (or 50,000 cases in total) based on 60% compliance. of insulation instructions.

Approximately 40% of those who can use the app use it regularly, and approximately 50% of all tests reported using the tool are entered.

Emmerich suggests that the app may play a “reasonable” role in preventing the spread of new infections.

“My idea is that the virus will definitely accompany us and we will have to protect people through various mechanisms that, for whatever reason, cannot be vaccinated, decide not to be vaccinated or for those who do not work,” he said.

“The application may play a reasonable role in achieving this and I think it’s good that the Department of Health has decided to remove the isolation requirement because it’s a serious disincentive to use the application.”

Digital contact tracking works

At the beginning of the pandemic, when contact tracking applications were first developed, there was uncertainty about the need for digital contact tracking and whether it would work.

Advertising experts and privacy advocates were concerned about the mission and how the data collected by the applications would be stored, and some experts and thought groups concluded that the risk to privacy outweighed the benefit of the application. digital contact tracking.

One of the main concerns was the UK government’s initial decision to build a “centralized” contact tracking app that would allow the data collected by the app to be sent to a central NHS database.

In May 2020 a change of direction was made on this decision and one “decentralized” model based on Apple and Google technology was released in September 2020.

But Emmerich said the app is often ahead of the curve in detecting infections and has been a useful tool for understanding how the virus moves.

“We have now established that digital contact tracking works and we can effectively complement manual contact tracking so that it scales better,” he said.

“If there are a large number of infections, manual contact tracking is no longer scaled, but the ‘pingdemic’ clearly shows that it is.

“Therefore, it is entirely plausible that we will retain the application or the Department of Health will decide to keep the application in the back pocket in the event of another pandemic.”

Through the app, epidemiologists and the government also know how many people test positive after being “dropped” and where isolation alerts are sent.

Emmerich stressed that the data was collected anonymously, but that it was necessary for effective tracking of contacts.

“We also know how many people enter a positive test related to exposure notifications, so we call it exposure notification for index case. This is an indication of how many transmissions are occurring.

“We also know the secondary attack rate, so that’s the rate of people who have been dripping and then been positive. What we see, for example, is that the secondary attack rate decreased as they went. chop the vaccines.

“That way, you can learn a lot about the pandemic.”

The Swiss company Zühlke Engineering was awarded one Six-month extension of £ 10 million in June this year to continue offering contact location services. The company is the lead business partner of the contact tracking app and has been working in the service since development began in early 2020.

He contract, with a value of £ 10.26 million, began on 15 March 2021 and is valid until 30 September 2021. It carries the cumulative total of contracts awarded to Zühlke for the development and support of the contact tracking app over £ 22 million.

The application data is published weekly along with NHS test and tracking data.

For an in-depth look at the NHS Covid-19 app, and what went wrong along the way, check out our chronology of events here.





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