Countries around the world are racing to develop software on mobile phones that could control the spread of coronavirus by alerting people if they have come into contact with anyone who has tested positive.
These life or death apps are the next stage in the battle to beat the infection that has shut down global economies.
All eyes are on finding a world-beating contact tracing technology that stands out from the rest, and on an island off the south coast of the U.K., scientists hope they have developed an app that will become the model copied around the world.
Read: How a controversial test on this island could help battle one of Europe’s biggest outbreaks of coronavirus
This could be a crucial time as the government will launch the app nationwide within weeks, barring any setbacks. It has been downloaded by 55,000 people on the Isle of Wight, according to the U.K.’s Department of Health, but will soon be available to millions.
State and local governments across the U.S., including in North and South Dakota and Utah, are all developing their own versions. These differ, as some adopt a centralized approach to data storage while some keep the data on users’ devices.
Many say a tracking and tracing app would need to be downloaded by 60% of the population to be effective and a key obstacle to this is concerns over privacy.
But Bob Seely, the politician representing the Isle of Wight, 80 miles south of London, told MarketWatch that privacy concerns are unfounded and “ironic.”
“There is nothing more ironic than people going on to Facebook to complain about loss of privacy,” he said. “This app doesn’t track your location, it is about the only app I’ve ever downloaded that doesn’t ask for my location.”
And the initial phase of the rollout has gone “really well,” he said. “Many Islanders asked for the link to the app before they had even received their letter about it.”
“Last weekend Dr. Geraint Lewis, NHSX’s (the health service’s technology department) lead on the app, said an average of 25 people a day were being tested for coronavirus after reporting it through the app. This isn’t only helping to keep them safe but everyone else on the Island as well.”
Read: This contact tracing technology of COVID-19 in over a dozen jurisdictions could assist companies as they reopen
Alice Webster, director of nursing for the Isle of Wight, told MarketWatch that Isle of Wighters are delighted to be a part of the national rollout and called the app a “great solution.”
There were some technological issues, but, she said: “I’m a bit of a technophobe but even I managed to download the app.”
She said she knows there are privacy concerns, but people are eager to do “anything” to help control the virus.
“It is incredibly difficult to work with patients who are really sick with COVID-19 and we are eager to do anything to fight this virus,” she said.
The U.K. government said the app will play a vital role getting the country moving again and on Monday laid out a ‘road map’ of steps toward easing the coronavirus lockdown.
Residents on the Isle of Wight told MarketWatch that they were proud to be testing the app, and that if it weren’t for technical problems it would have much higher takeup.
Some residents have been unable to download the app, while others have said it drains a phone’s battery.
Meanwhile, a councilor on the island, Paul Fuller, told MarketWatch the response to the app has been mostly positive.
“I’ve had people that are concerned about some of the negative things you hear on the telly, about Big Brother and things,” he said. “But I think people have given it some thought and that if it can save the life of one person, then that is a good thing isn’t it?”
Resident Joy Whitaker said: “The whole island has really gotten behind this.”
“From what I’ve seen, people I’ve spoken to, and I speak to quite a lot of people…I think it is actually working very well,” she said.