LSHTM to evaluate public attitudes towards new COVID-19 contact-tracing app

People standing in a queue, waiting to enter London's Borough Market which has been gated off by security.

The new app will build on Apple and Google technology to use Bluetooth to detect other nearby app-users, and will allow people to scan QR codes to register visits to hospitality venues, alongside other features. By providing anonymous information on whether the user has come into contact with someone with coronavirus, it’s hoped this technology will assist the existing manual contact-tracing efforts to slow the spread of the disease.

Use of the app is voluntary, and so public opinion and uptake will be key to its success. Surveys in the early stages of the pandemic identified a degree of willingness among adults in the UK to download the app, but also reported concerns about use of personal data and privacy.

This new study of smartphone users, funded by the National Institute for Health Research, aims to understand the factors influencing widescale uptake of the app and how its use changes over the course of the pandemic.

Study lead, Mustafa Al-Haboubi, Research Fellow at LSHTM, said: “The main strength of this study, unlike previous surveys of the pilot apps, is that it will follow the same representative group of people over time. This will enable us to understand how views on the app and its use change in response to trends in the pandemic and policy response, such as the tightening or relaxing of lockdown restrictions.”

This research will estimate the proportion of adult smartphone users in England and Wales who are willing or unwilling to use the app, what traits characterise these groups and how this overlaps with groups known to be most at risk of contracting Covid-19.

The study will also seek to understand the main concerns deterring people from downloading the app. This could include fearing a loss of income if asked to self-isolate, privacy and data-use concerns, or practical issues, such as concern that it might drain their phone’s battery-life.

The team will conduct a baseline online survey with a representative sample of 2,700 adults aged 18-79 in England and Wales two weeks after the national launch of the app. The same respondents will then be asked to complete monthly follow-up surveys until February 2021. The online surveys will be carried out by YouGov.

To ensure the survey captures the views and experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people, who have been hardest hit by the pandemic so far, the study will include a boost sample from these groups.

It’s hoped that this app will provide another line of defence against the pandemic as the country heads into winter, and the insights from this survey will be vital to allowing the Government to improve the technology and how it is promoted to the public.

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