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NZ border workers trialling app aimed at early detection of Covid-19 symptoms

A trial is currently underway to determine if an app connected to wearable smart devices can detect Covid-19 in border workers before they experience symptoms, according to the Ministry of Health.

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Up to 500 workers have been given the opportunity to trial the app, which works through smart watches. Source: 1 NEWS

The month-long trial, which runs until early May, will see up to 500 workers take part in the testing of the ëlarm app, which connects to wearable devices such as smartwatches.

The app uses artificial intelligence to inform users of early physiological changes that might indicate they are becoming unwell before they experience symptoms, said the Ministry of Health's deputy director-general of data and digital, Shayne Hunter. 

Volunteers will receive regular email reminders and alerts throughout the day after installing the app on a smart device, and can securely view their own health information on the app or by going online to view a dashboard.

Hunter says the app establishes a personalised health baseline for each individual user based on their wearable data history, with all data used by the app remaining private.

Wearable devices will be provided to workers without the appropriate gear by Datamine, the New Zealand company which developed the app.

It comes after it was discovered yesterday that a security guard at an Auckland MIQ facility tested positive for Covid-19 last week had last been tested in November. 

“Contact tracing is at the heart of our Covid-19 response and it’s essential we find and treat people who might have been exposed to this difficult virus before it has a chance to take hold in our communities,” Hunter said.

“There’s no single fix for Covid-19 so it’s important we use the tools and technologies at our disposal to give contact tracers and health workers a good head start."

Hunter says the app may help "provide early notification to our critical border workforce if they’re becoming unwell," allowing them to "take appropriate action" by self-isolating and receiving a Covid-19 test. 

He said while workers at the border have been vaccinated, "the reality is that some people will still feel unsure about the increased risk of exposure to Covid-19 from working on the border".

"We want to really support this essential work by giving people good tools to monitor their own health to keep themselves, their whānau and all of New Zealand safe and healthy."

ACT leader David Seymour says he’s been calling for the installation of elam since last year.

“I’m trilled to see the Government supporting this local business, doing the right thing, adding technology to our Covid-19 response, I just wish they’d got on to it last August.”

Early research of similar technology supports the use of wearable devices to detect Covid-19 and other transmissible diseases, including studies undertaken by Stanford University, Scripps Institute and UCSF. More information about ëlarm can be found at www.elarm.health.