The World Health Organization (WHO) plans to launch an app this month to enable people in under-resourced countries to assess whether they may have the novel coronavirus.
Speaking to Reuters, Bernardo Mariano, chief information officer for the WHO, said that the app will ask people about their symptoms and offer guidance on whether they may have COVID-19. It would also have a Bluetooth-based contact tracing feature, which has been already in the works by Apple and Google developers.
The technology relies on virtual “handshakes” between phones that come within a few feet of each other for at least five minutes. Phones keep anonymised logs of such encounters, allowing someone who later tests positive to anonymously send notifications to recent contacts about their possible exposure to the virus.
Apple and Google have said their system will not use any data for other purposes and will be stopped when the pandemic ends.
The app will be available on app stores globally, and any government will be able to take the app’s underlying technology, add features and release its own version on app stores, Mariano said.
“The value is really for countries that do not have anything,” Mariano said. “We would be leaving behind the ones that are not able to (provide an app), that have fragile health systems.”
India, Australia and the United Kingdom already have released official virus apps using their own technology, with common features including telling people whether to get tested based on their symptoms and logging people’s movements to enable more efficient contact tracing.
Several countries are opting for using contact tracing, or the process of finding, testing and isolating individuals who crossed paths with an infectious individual.
Mariano said he wants to include additional tools beyond the symptom checker, including a self-help guide for mental health care.
The WHO plans to release guidance as soon as next week on issues countries should consider as they weigh their own proximity tracing apps.