New Zealand tests app detecting early signs of COVID-19 on border workers

The monitoring tool uses AI technology to spot users' bodily changes that indicate potential infection.
By Thiru Gunasegaran
03:51 AM

Credit: ëlarm

An app that can detect early signs of COVID-19 is currently being tried out on border workers in New Zealand.

The country’s health ministry is organising the month-long trial of the ëlarm app, which is installed in wearable devices such as smartwatches and fitness trackers.


ëlarm, which is developed by Auckland-based Datamine, uses AI to check physiological changes in users before they experience symptoms of the coronavirus. It calculates their "wellness risk score" every four hours, based on variations from their personalised health baseline. The changes are categorised into four levels: normal; slightly; moderately; and highly elevated, which are then communicated via e-mail and alerts.


New Zealand is trying out the app on up to 500 border workers who are at high risk of getting infected with COVID-19.

"If the ëlarm app lives up to its potential, it might provide early notification to our critical border workforce if they’re becoming unwell. That means they can take appropriate action such as self-isolating and being tested for COVID-19,” deputy health director Shayne Hunter said.

Datamine said in a statement that the company had developed the app to help limit the spread of the virus by asymptomatic carriers. "With ëlarm, you can know you're sick before you feel sick," Datamine co-founding director Paul O'Connor said.


Studies have supported the use of wearable devices in screening early signs of COVID-19 infections by combining AI with health metrics. One of the most prominent was Fitbit’s study which drew the support of the US military. The wearables maker also supported another study led by Scripps Research Translational Institute. Research was also conducted on Oura Ring’s ability to detect the onset of COVID-19 symptoms.

A Mount Sinai study is the most recent to provide data on wearables detecting coronavirus infections through spotting heart rate changes. Ava, a women's reproductive health firm, is currently conducting a study on the viability of its wrist-worn fertility tracker to screen early signs of COVID-19 infection.

Meanwhile, AI technology is also incorporated in a tool developed by MIT which listens to coughs to detect asymptomatic COVID-19 cases.


"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 said.

"We already have good tools such as the NZ COVID Tracer app and QR code posters, and the Ministry of Health is investigating other technologies that might provide further support for our contact tracing,” she added.

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