Science-Technology, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

Turkey to use contact-tracing app to detect coronavirus

Corowarner app alerts users instantly, anonymously, if they had contact with infected people

Gozde Bayar   | 14.04.2020
Turkey to use contact-tracing app to detect coronavirus

ANKARA 

Young Turkish entrepreneurs have developed a mobile application to support the country’s efforts to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

A group of 16 technology enthusiasts developed the “Corowarner” app which allows community-driven contact tracing.

“The Corowarner app alerts you instantly and anonymously if you had close contact with an individual in a market, pharmacy or bus who tested positive for the virus,” Efe Kart, one of the project developers of the app, told Anadolu Agency.

“The app was basically designed to send a notification like 'X days ago, you encountered a person who tested positive for COVID-19' without revealing the patient's identity. Then it provides the user with timely guidance by observing their current symptoms based on their ages and chronic diseases,” Kart said.

He added that the app will provide advice based on the degree of proximity to the positive-tested individual by using an artificial intelligence-based algorithm.

“We will ask for permission to access the app user’s GPS and bluetooth data to estimate the proximity and duration of an encounter between two users -- one who tested positive for the virus and the other who was at risk of being infected,” he said.

For those who do not have smartphones, he said they could also send messages by using their location-based data taken from operator services.

As more people use the app, the more efficient the tracing becomes, he stressed, aiming to play an important role in mitigating the spread of the disease.

“We are in contact with several municipalities and firms with 10-15,000 employees, and seeking to immediately make the app prevalent to reduce the risk of transmission,” he said, calling for all stakeholders and institutions to support the app so that it reaches to all citizens.

The team continues its efforts without accepting any financial support, he said, underlining that "citizenship concern and entrepreneurial spirit” motivated them.

Regarding security concerns, Kart ensured that data privacy was in line with Article 12 of Law No. 6698 on the Protection of Personal Data. Users’ data will not be used for any other purposes, he stressed.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), contact tracing is a monitoring process which includes identification and follow-up of people who might have been in contact with someone infected with a virus to help the contacts receive required care and treatment as well as to prevent further transmission of the virus.


Similar apps bear fruit

As the coronavirus began spreading in Turkey, Kart and one of his friends, Ozgur Bagci -- who is studying computer engineering at Middle East Technical University in Ankara -- aimed to adopt technology-based solutions to control the spread of the infection.

They entered the Coronathon Turkey competition held on March 21-22 to help tackle the social, psychological and economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis.

“In the competition, we decided to join forces with Berkhan Selcuk, the head of the project ‘Guvende Kal’ (Stay Safe),” Kart said.

“We are a team of strong hearts and minds who met on common ground under Coronathon Turkey,” he said, adding they were among the first 12 award-winning projects.

Referring to Corowarner, Kart said similar apps based on contact tracing were helpful in several countries such as Singapore, South Korea and China.

“We want to raise awareness first in Turkey and then around the world,” he said, adding they aim to build the most comprehensive COVID-19 platform in Turkey by providing its users with tips on medical care and mental health during the pandemic.

Highlighting that the beta version of the app would be ready this week, he said they would publish the app on Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store as soon as possible.

Referring to Turkey’s Pandemic Isolation Tracking Project, he said that merely monitoring patients in quarantine would not reduce the spread of the disease.

The project aims to stem the spread of COVID-19 by tracking patients diagnosed with the disease and ensuring they adhere to the government's quarantine procedures.


Spread of COVID-19

After first appearing in Wuhan, China last December, the virus has spread to at least 185 countries and territories. The WHO has declared the outbreak a pandemic.

Turkey on Monday confirmed 98 more deaths from coronavirus over the past 24 hours, bringing the country's death toll to 1,296. The total number of registered coronavirus cases in the country surged to 61,049.

The number of confirmed cases worldwide now exceeds 1.93 million, while the death toll is over 120,400 with more than 462,000 recoveries, according to data compiled by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Despite the rising number of cases, most people who contract the virus suffer mild symptoms before making a recovery.

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