New Nature research highlights the epidemiological impact of the NHS COVID-19 app

New findings, reported in Nature today, provide evidence to support the continued development and deployment of contact tracing apps, in conjunction with other measures (such as social distancing and face coverings), to control the spread of COVID-19.

Analysis of the NHS COVID-19 contact-tracing app for England and Wales estimates that somewhere between approximately 100,000 and 900,000 SARS-CoV-2 infections, depending on the methodology used, were prevented from October to December 2020.

For each app user that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and allowed their contacts to be notified, at least one further case of infection is thought to have been averted.

The authors also find that the average number of contacts traced by the app was more than double that of manual contact tracing, although the two methods could be complementary (as they trace different contacts).

The Nature paper, authored by Christophe Fraser (Oxford Big Data Institute) and colleagues Mark Briers, Chris Holmes, and Marcos Charalambides (The Alan Turing Institute) as well as others, assesses the impact of the app on reducing transmission and follows on from an earlier analysis presented by Briers, Holmes and Fraser on ‘Demonstrating the impact of the NHS COVID-19 app.’  

Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock said:

“The NHS COVID-19 App is an important tool in our pandemic response and the publication of this paper marks a significant milestone in proving just how effective it has been in protecting users, their families and their communities and will continue to do so.

“I want to thank The Alan Turing Institute and Oxford University for the incredible work they have done both on the development of the app and for their analysis, which proves the more people who download the app, the better it works.

“If you have not already done so, I urge you to download the app and also look at the data to see for yourself the benefits using it can bring.”

Chief Executive and Institute Director of The Alan Turing Institute, Adrian Smith said:

“Against great adversity, the research community has pulled together to deliver solutions to help us manage and move forward from this pandemic.

“I am proud of the work we have done at The Alan Turing Institute on the NHS COVID-19 app and want to thank all of our collaborators for their innovation, ingenuity and inexhaustible hard work. 

“We have not only developed new technologies but also proven their effectiveness and have continued to build on them for the future.”

See the project page for additional information about the Turing’s support to the NHS COVID-19 app team

For an overview of the Turing’s role in helping to tackle the spread and effects of coronavirus, visit Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This press release was adapted from Nature. Full paper citation: Wymant, C. et al. The epidemiological impact of the NHS COVID-19 App. Nature (2021).

Cover photo by Charlotte May from Pexels.