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Hi-tech app may have cut Covid-19 cases and possibly saved lives, WeHealth says

A team from WeHealth meets health officials during an October visit to Bermuda (Photograph supplied)

Phone software may have cut cases of Covid-19 by as much as 20 per cent during the island’s worst outbreak, the company that created the programme has said.

WeHealth, a US-based firm, said that the app, now being used by about 25 per cent of residents, was believed to have significantly cut cases of the virus in the fourth wave of infections driven by the Delta variant in autumn 2020.

Sameer Halai, the chief executive of WeHealth, said: “During the Delta wave, 2,800 people tested positive on the island.

“Of those, 264 chose to share their diagnosis anonymously using the WeHealth app during that time, helping to alert an average of three others of possible exposure and reduce the risk of further spread to members of their communities.”

Mr Halai said the “safe and anonymous technology solution” could continue to deliver against the more contagious Omicron variant of the virus.

He added: “It’s very valuable for people to know if they might have been exposed and need to change their behaviour or notify others.

“With an exposure notification, you can get started earlier on treatment.”

The app uses Bluetooth signals to record how long and how close different app users were to one another.

The system notifies users of potential exposure to the virus without the collection personal information or tracking locations.

WeHealth has provided the Government with its app for more than a year, with a customised version launched in December 2020.

The company estimated, based on the projected 20 per cent reduction in cases, that the app had paid off by saving about a week of economic activity on the island during the fourth wave.

Mr Halai emphasised that the information collected on the app was as random as a lottery number, to protect privacy.

Mr Halai added that the company worked with Alexander White, Bermuda’s privacy commissioner, and was joining a programme based on the island to develop private information technology.

Devin McIntire, WeHealth’s head of growth, said: “Our sincere belief, supported by the data, is that if more people use the app, it will help individuals and the economy of the island.”

Mr McIntire said people would need to carry on with their lives using “a robust assemblage of defence layers” as the pandemic continued and more variants emerged.

But he added: “By keeping cases lower than they might have otherwise been, we make big reductions in the societal cost for all Bermudians.”

Mr McIntire said the figure of 20 per cent fewer cases was “not airtight” as it came from highly encrypted information.

He was reluctant to speculate on whether the app may have saved lives in an outbreak that caused the highest death toll of the pandemic.

Mr McIntire explained that it was possible that at least one life was saved and up to 20 people avoided intensive care treatment because the app had cut the spread of the variant.

But he emphasised: “We can’t say.”

Mr McIntire added that a lower number of cases would mean schools and businesses would stay open and day to day life would be less affected.

The WeHealth Bermuda app is free, private and available through the App Store or Google Play.

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Published January 10, 2022 at 7:55 am (Updated January 10, 2022 at 7:38 am)

Hi-tech app may have cut Covid-19 cases and possibly saved lives, WeHealth says

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