Nearly 4% of Dundee’s population could have symptoms of Covid-19, according to data from a hugely popular app tracking the spread of the virus in the UK.
Early local-level data published by the Covid Symptom Tracker project suggests 3.92% of the city could have ‘symptomatic Covid’, which equates to nearly 6,000 people.
The tracker, available as a free mobile app, is part of one of the largest studies into the spread of coronavirus to date, having been downloaded to over two million smartphones since launching at the end of March.
Those behind the app believe it has been downloaded more in its first day than any other in history.
Among the symptoms users can report so far include fever, persistent cough, fatigue and headaches – but others, such as a loss of taste and smell, have been added as the scientific community’s understanding of the disease has evolved.
While it is not a diagnosis tool, researchers at Kings College London and Guys & St Thomas’ Hospitals hope they can use the data to work out who is most at risk of Covid-19 – and even to predict the virus’ spread in future.
Dr Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at KCL and lead researcher on the project, says the tracker app could forecast local outbreaks between two and three weeks before the NHS is bowled over with admissions.
He has called on locals to download the app and contribute to the effort.
Explore the Covid Symptom Tracker data
To date, there are 2,650 people in Dundee contributing to the app, with another 2,200 in Angus, 3,415 in Perthshire and 6,400 in Fife.
Dr Spector said: “By reporting every day, even if you feel fine, and getting more people to report in Scotland, we can work out where the next wave is going to be.
“We’re using machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence, to track the spread, which we can do with the millions of data points we have.
“It is very useful data because so few people in Scotland have been tested to date.”
The data is being shared with government agencies across the UK, along with the NHS, which can use it to prepare for any influx of new cases.
Dr Spector added that the Scottish and Welsh governments have been “particularly supportive” of the project so far – and that the estimated local infection rates are, he believes, reliable.
“Comparisons across areas are reliable – there’s a lot of unknowns in tests because there’s no gold standard test for Covid yet. The best tests are only accurate half of the time.
“I think our reported rates are broadly correct – we’re getting data from two million people in the UK, so they aren’t unreasonable estimates.
“We also don’t know how many asymptomatic people (those who have Covid-19 but have no symptoms) there are – there are far more cases than just the 50,000 the Government has suggested.”
However, Dr Spector – a genetics expert who has been studying differences between identical twins for nearly 30 years – has taken heart from the public’s response to the app so far.
“This situation is totally unprecedented – and I had no idea that two weeks ago we would be providing data to the government about what’s going on in our country,” he added.
“But it has been a really uplifting experience showing what we can do with modern technology, and it’s really captured the mood of the public who are logging on and spreading the word. That’s the uplifting message here.”
The Scottish Government says it is using a range of information and data to measure the impact of the virus to date, including the Covid Symptom Tracker app.
A spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government is using a range of sources and will take decisions based on the best scientific advice available at the time.”