You can use this tracker app to help scientists track the spread of coronavirus – even if you don’t have symptoms

You can use this tracker app to help scientists track the spread of coronavirus – even if you don’t have symptoms
Researchers have created a new Covid-19 tracking app to try and monitor outbreaks in the UK (Photo: Shutterstock)

An app which can track the symptoms of coronavirus is aiming to gain a million downloads, in order to help monitor the UK outbreak.

What does the app do?

The app, called Covid Symptom Tracker, allows users to enter their coronavirus symptoms and track how they progress. It will also allow you to declare that you feel fit and healthy, if you are showing no signs of illness.

You’ll be asked to enter personal information about your height, age and medical history.

The app then asks you to describe your symptoms – if you have any – on a daily basis, also giving a temperature reading if you’re able to get one.

I don’t have symptoms – why should I download it?

The creators are hoping that with a large number of users, they’ll be able to gain better insight into why some people get the disease more severely than others.

They’re also hoping to create a map of where outbreaks are occurring, and distinguish coronavirus cases from those of the common cold.

That means that even if you think your symptoms don’t match those of coronavirus, or you don’t have any at all, self-reporting every day can help the researchers behind the app to get a fuller picture of the outbreak across the UK.

Who’s behind the app?

The app was created in a matter of days by researchers at St Thomas’ and Guy’s hospitals, and King’s College London university, in collaboration with nutrition advice start-up, Zoe.

It has already been downloaded over 750,000 times at a rate of around 50,000 downloads per hour, and the researchers hope to hit one million users or more.

Professor Tim Spector, a genetic epidemiologist at King’s College, was the brains behind the app. Spector has specialised in the medical histories and genetics of twins for the past 25 years.

He told BBC News, “I was rather depressed as they were shutting down everything in the university and I thought that twins are the best studied people in the country, so how can we use that information in this crisis?”

At first, the app was only available to twins taking part in his studies, but the scientist soon realised it could be scaled up and made available to the public.

How do I download the app?

You can download Covid Symptom Tracker from the Apple and Google app stores.

Experts have warned users to check carefully that they are downloading the correct app, as online scams skyrocket during the coronavirus crisis.

A spokeswoman for Zoe told BBC News that any data shared by users would be anonymous, and not used to any commercial purposes. They also assured that users could delete all shared records when the crisis is over.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms? 

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath – but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell. 

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Government advice

As of Monday 23 March the prime minister has put the UK into lockdown and instructed all citizens to stay at home. People can only leave their homes to exercise once a day, go shopping for food and medication, travel for medical needs or to care for a vulnerable person, and travel to work only if essential. Police will be able to enforce these restrictions.

All non-essential shops will close with immediate effect, as will playgrounds, places of worship and libraries. Large events or gatherings of more than two people cannot go ahead, including weddings and celebrations. Funerals can only be attended by immediate family.

Children of separated parents can go between both parents’ homes.

Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.

The government has now instructed bars, restaurants,  theatres and non-essential businesses to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis. Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.

The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake “shielding” for 12 weeks.

For more information on government advice, please check their website.

Should I avoid public places?

You should now avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next. 

Only call 111 if you cannot get help online.

When to call NHS 111

Only call NHS 111 if you can’t get help online and feel very unwell. This should be used if you feel extremely ill with coronavirus symptoms. If you have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus please use the online service.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS