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COVID-19: NHS Test and Trace app has prevented 600,000 cases, study suggests

·3-min read

As many as 600,000 coronavirus cases have been prevented as a result of the NHS COVID-19 app, new research suggests.

Scientists at The Alan Turing Institute and Oxford University found that for every 1% increase in app users, the number of infections falls by up to 2.3%.

The analysis, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, is based on data gathered in between the app launching in September and the end of last year.

"The impact of the app could be increased by more people using it," said Professor Christophe Fraser at the University of Oxford.

"The epidemiological outlook remains concerning, and using the app can contribute to reducing infections until we are all vaccinated."

Test and Trace has recorded significantly improved figures in recent weeks. Last week it reached 93.6% of contacts, the highest percentage since the service was launched.

Previously poor performance and a string of errors had raised questions over the competence of the troubled service, which has been given funding worth around £22 billion this financial year.

Officials hope that an ability to point to a causal link between app use and reduced cases will boost public confidence in the app.

Sky News understands there will not be a new campaign to encourage people to download it.

"This analysis shows [the NHS COVID-19 App] has been hugely effective at breaking chains of transmission, preventing an estimated 600,000 cases," Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said.

"Isolating and knowing when you have been at risk of catching coronavirus is essential to stopping the spread of this virus, and the app is the quickest way to notify you if you are at risk.

"I want to thank all those who have played their part by downloading and using the app, and urge those who haven't to take the simple step to protect your communities and loved ones and download it."

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The findings come after Sky News reported last week how large numbers of contact tracers had been fired by Test and Trace without warning.

Officials, however, are confident the service can maintain its current performance levels despite the reduction in staffing.

According to government data, more than 1.7 million app users in England and Wales have been asked to isolate as a result of a close contact with a positive case.

The time it takes for alerts to be sent ranges from 15 minutes to four hours after a user inputs a positive test result.

"There can be no doubt the NHS COVID-19 app is a vital tool in stopping the spread of coronavirus," Baroness Dido Harding, who leads the test and trace programme, said.

"The app continues to protect our essential workers during this lockdown, and will continue to play an important role in the future as we come out of national restrictions."

The app has now been downloaded 21.63 million times, representing 56% of the eligible population aged 16+ with a smartphone. It was the second most downloaded free iPhone app on the Apple App Store in 2020.

As well as contact tracing and booking a test, the app allows users to check their symptoms via the symptom checker. Coronavirus symptoms have been reported into the app nearly 1.5 million times in England and Wales since 24 September.

More than 3.1 million test results have been entered into the app, of which 825,388 were positive.

Over three nights Sky News will host a series of special programmes examining the UK's response to the pandemic.

Watch COVID Crisis: Learning the Lessons at 8pm on 9, 10 and 11 February.