Germany’s Public Health Authority Launches Smartwatch App to Monitor Covid-19 Spread

RKI app to monitor Covid 19
Image: PeakPx (Creative Commons Zero - CC0)

Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German federal government agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention, announced that it has launched a smartwatch app in partnership with healthtech startup Thryve to help monitor the spread of COVID-19 and analyze whether measures to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic are working, reports Reuters. The app, called Corona Datenspende (Corona Data Donation), would allow people to voluntarily and anonymously share information from their fitness trackers that could reveal signs of a Covid-19 infection.

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The results will be shown in an interactive online map. Healthcare authorities and the general public would then be able to access the prevalence of infections down to postcode level.

“If the sample is big enough to capture enough symptomatic patients, that would help us to draw conclusions on how infections are spreading and whether containment measures are working,” said Professor Lothar H. Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute that is coordinating Germany’s coronavirus response.

Although Germany has the fourth highest COVID-19 caseload behind the United States, Spain, and Italy at nearly 100,000, the country has kept fatalities down to a relatively low 1,600 thanks to early and extensive testing.

When the coronavirus pandemic began, the authorities in Germany started widespread testing and have been more cautious than some Asian countries in using digital technology to fight this disease.

Dr. Lothar Heinz Weiler
Prof. Dr. Lothar Heinz Wieler, President of RKI (Image Credit: Andrea Schnartendorff, Wikimedia Commons)

The country’s world-class health system with more critical care beds than many other nations, allowed it to take in dozens of patients from hard-hit Italy, Spain and France.

The Corona Data Donation app is available for download in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. It is voluntary and data would be processed anonymously. To register, users should enter their postcode, age, sex, height, and weight.

The app “would help to better estimate where and how fast Covid-19 is spreading in Germany,” Wieler said.

The RKI hopes 10 percent of the roughly 10 million people in Germany with smartwatches or fitness bracelets like Fitbit will join up.

“But if we could reach 100,000 or even 10,000 people that would be excellent,” added the RKI’s epidemiological modelling expert Dirk Brockmann.

The Corona Data Donation app was developed in four weeks in partnership with Berlin-based startup Thryve, a data-driven ‘wearable health’ startup which realized earlier this year that its approach could be adapted to detect COVID-19, the Reuters report said.

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Meanwhile, RKI will conduct a study in different coronavirus hotspots across Germany to get deep understanding into the respective dynamics of the outbreaks at different locations.

“The more studies we do, the more we learn about the spread of the virus,” Wieler said.