According to experts, the Chinese government’s app that lets people know if they’ve been in close proximity to somebody with the coronavirus could backfire anytime soon. The app could go on to create a false sense of security or lead to stigmatizing treatment of sufferers of the virus.
Launched last week, the app aims to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease, one that already has over 50,000 people infected, with over 1300 already dead as a result. But while the government is telling us that they have good intentions by creating this app, may disease specialists feel that this app is just an example of technology that is used with no real attention to social concerns.
Stigma and Security issues
The app named the “close contact detector” works with users’ phone numbers. They sign up with their phone numbers, name and government IDs. The app works by informing them if they have been in contact, or been around someone who has the virus. This could be anyone, from strangers on transit, coworkers or even family members.
The app then recommends self-quarantine to anyone who has been in close proximity with carriers, and they are also required to contact local health officials to further check and to confirm if the fears are real.
Tests are not completely accurate, so a person could get false negatives and false positives. This will likely be the case since the COVID-19 can only be detected after considering many factors. Another factor that makes this close to useless is that the government doesn’t count the many mild cases of the coronavirus, which often indicates that the disease is much more widespread than we have been informed officially.
According to Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, this flaw leads to a false appearance of safety that might lead to more people letting down their guard, because not everyone who is capable of exposing you to the disease is actually in the database. And according to her, how vulnerable a carrier is-is much more important than contact.
According to epidemic expert, Christos Lynteris, whether this app is accurate or not, it’s often harmful because it could have a big effect on people, and their relationships if they are marked potentially contagious because of the social reaction to the disease in china. Christos states that while the disease already has that panic element, things could get even worse when people manage to put a “face” to suspected carriers and that in itself becomes more counterproductive because not a lot of people will want to turn themselves in when they suspect an infection.