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, and is considering a Bluetooth-based contact tracing feature too, an official told Reuters on Friday.
The app will ask people about their symptoms and offer guidance on whether they may have Covid-19, the potentially lethal illness caused by the coronavirus, said Bernardo Mariano, chief information officer for the WHO. Other information, such as how to get tested, will be personalized according to the user’s country.
Though the WHO will release a version on app stores globally, any government will be able to take the app’s underlying technology, add features and release its own version on app stores, Mariano said in a phone interview.
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 ramping up contact tracing, or the process of finding, testing and isolating individuals who crossed paths with an infectious individual. It is seen as vital to safely opening economies, and apps that automate parts of the process could accelerate efforts.
The WHO expects its app to draw interest in other countries, including some in South America and Africa where case numbers are rising. They may lack the technology and engineers to develop apps or be struggling to offer testing and education.
“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.”
Engineers and designers, including some who previously worked at Alphabet Inc’s Google and Microsoft Corp , have been volunteering for weeks to develop the new app with about five of them overseeing the process. They are designing it open-source on the hosting service GitHub, meaning code is open to public input.