As cases of the COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus) continue to spread across China and beyond, the Chinese government has released a new app intended to help citizens check whether they came into contact with the virus.
App users are asked to register a phone number, name and ID number in or to see if they were in contact with someone infected, according to Chinese state media outlet Xinhua, which first reported the story.
Users are able to get the app by scanning a QR code through platforms like WeChat, Alipay and QQ. The app will then give them information on whether they came into “close contact” with the disease, which the government defines as being in a close distance to someone with no protection who has a confirmed case or a suspected case.
The tool will act as a way of collecting data as well as to educate citizens on what to do if they have been in close contact with the virus — which is to stay at home and get advice from health authorities.
The latest tool, which was released on Saturday, was developed by the General Office of State Council, the National Health Commission and China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC), according to Xinhua.
WHY IT MATTERS
Since COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan China in late December, the number of cases has been on the rise. As of yesterday the World Health Organization has reported 40,554 cases of the virus. Of those reported cases, 40,325 are in China. The death toll is also rising with over 900 people in China having died from the disease.
China’s government has kicked into action. Its efforts include building two new hospitals in Wuhan to handle the crisis and the mass spraying of disinfectant on city streets in attempts to prevent the spread.
It has also made regional health leadership changes recently. Chinese state media reported that Zhang Jin, party secretary of the Health Commission of Hubei Province, where the novel coronavirus was first identified, and Liu Yingzi, director of the Hubei Provincial Health Commission, have been fired.
The release of the new app stands alongside these efforts and, ideally, could bring timely exposure information to a greater number of those at risk of infection.
THE LARGER TREND
As the COVID-19 continues to spread innovators are looking to use tech to help track and elevate the problem.
For example, HealthMap, a digital epidemiology tool developed by a team at Boston Children’s Hospital, has been actively tracking the disease spread through social media networks, chatrooms and other online crowdsourcing efforts.
It has recently joined forces with chatbot Buoy Health on a new tool that lets patients check their symptoms at home. HealthMap gives Buoy data about what is happening the region, and Buoy can provide HealthMap info on trends happening in the patient’s home.
In January VivaLNK, a Santa Clara, California-based connected health startup, announced that Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center (SPHCC) is using the startup’s continuous temperature sensor to curb the spread of coronavirus in China. Instead of physically checking the patient temperature every few hours with a mercury thermometer, temperatures can be monitored remotely and automatically, thereby limiting patient-to-caregiver contact.
Also in late January Singapore-based Veredus Laboratories, maker of tech-enabled molecular diagnostic solutions, announced the development of VereCoV detection kit, a portable Lab-on-Chip application capable of detecting the COVID-19, as well as other influenzas.