It does seem that the NHS contact tracing app, debuted after various tests on 5 May in the Isle of Wight, has vanished from the radar screen. A scan of recent news indicates that the app is further delayed in favor of a manual track and trace system with 25,000 contact tracers, starting 28-29 May A Telegraph article indicates that the app had the Bluetooth blues, with further detail from Wired UK around emerging worries within NHSX about BTE’s ability to accurately calculate the distance between two users.
Folks in the Isle of Wight, who enthusiastically adopted the app (Week 1’s 52,000 downloads), would like to know how they’re doin’, in the immortal words of a real NYC Mayor, Edward Koch. That data about contacts and alarms seems to not be forthcoming from the NHS–as well as an updated app with more questions about symptoms and test requests and results integrated into the process, according to BBC News today 16 June. Yes, it was an odd choice, but often beta tests take place in relatively small and isolated places, not big cities where factors can’t be controlled. But the app appears not to be moving forward in favor of the manual system. Nevertheless, the sound of crickets is deafening.
Some articles like Wired’s blame the NHS’ centralized approach, where a report of COVID goes straight to the NHS server, with outbound messages going to those with whom the person was in contact, defined by BTE tracing within 6 feet for 15 minutes +. Observers like our own Editor Emeritus Steve Hards noted in comments on the 29 May article that “It will only take a few well-publicised malware or phishing incidents to make the job of the genuine trackers unworkable and for any trust in the app to evaporate.”
A great deal of fuss has been made of other countries adopting contact tracing apps that actually work. Most of these are built on a platform developed by Apple and Google. These have been used in Italy, Switzerland, Latvia, and Poland. Austria is in test, Germany just launched. Japan’s is on a Microsoft platform. Countries that launched earlier have had their wrinkles. Italy is feuding over issues of data privacy. Norway’s Smittestopp app, which used both GPS and BTE to advise those contacted to self-isolate, was stopped by the Norwegian Data Protection Authority on disproportionate intrusion into users’ privacy. A bug in the programming affects Australia’s CovidSafe iPhone users in logging matches when the other iPhone is locked. Singapore, after seeing only one-quarter of the population adopting the app, is going the wearable dongle route that you hand over if you test positive. BBC News
By the time the apps are developed, debugged, and rolled out, the lockdowns will have ended, and the virus will have abated or mutated for next season. Meanwhile, progress has been made on treatment protocols. HCQ, zinc, azithromycin, vitamins C and A in early-stage treatment are already well known, like Tamiflu for the first few days of the flu. In later treatment, nasal oxygen (not ventilators), high dose vitamin C, heparin (a common blood thinner to prevent lung clotting), methylprednisolone (a steroid) and also HCQ were published by the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Consortium as early as 6 April. Now another BBC News report reveals that the University of Oxford’s RECOVERY Trial is mass-testing several approaches, including an inexpensive steroid, dexamethasone ($1 a dose). Sadly, they estimate that 5,000 lives in the UK could have been saved. Between cheap and common HCQ, heparin, steroids like dexamethasone and methylprednisolone, and high dose vitamins like A, C, and zinc, let’s hope that the spread in Africa and Latin America, especially Brazil, can be quelled.