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Science, Policy & Pandemics: Innovative Technology and Covid-19

15 May 2020

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Reported by Kate McNeil, CSaP Communications Officer

As part of our series on Science, Policy and Pandemics, we explored some of the new opportunities and challenges for innovative technology in the context of COVID-19, including trustworthy digital systems, digital identity and immunity passports.

Listen to the discussion here:

Produced in partnership with Cambridge Infectious Diseases and the Cambridge Immunology Network, CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's series on science, policy and pandemics aims to answer questions about our understanding of the current pandemic, including the epidemiology, on what basis governments are making current decisions, how much confidence we can have in the knowledge models are producing, and how to manage the uncertainties involved in the present crisis.

In this episode, Dr Rob Doubleday was joined by Professor of Communication Systems John Crowcroft, and epidemiologist Dr Caroline Trotter, for a discussion focused on the role of technology in the covid-19 pandemic.

Throughout the discussion, Dr Trotter highlighted that we do not yet have enough knowledge to justify an immune passporting approach to covid-19. There is still much that we don't understand about the immune response to this virus, and we certainly do not yet have a fully understanding of the duration of immunity. Moreover, she indicated that there is still work to be done on developing reliable tests of immunity to covid-19.

Meanwhile, Professor Crowcroft explore how multi party secure systems could be used to develop a secure contact tracing app, further highlighting that a decentralised system may be the one way to do this in areas close to open borders, so that places such as Ireland and Northern Ireland can engage in data sharing. While Professor Crowcroft is certain that such a system can be made trustworthy in a technical sense, he predicts greater difficulties in gaining public understanding and trust of this technology.

Throughout the conversation, Professor Crowcroft and Dr Trotter also discussed whether contact tracing apps should be linked to immunity passports, what we know about the NHS contact tracing app, how to share contact tracing data with scientists in ways that doesn't risk the re-identification of de-identified data, and whether international travel should be contingent upon the sharing of biometric health data.


CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's special series on Science, Policy and Pandemics is available accross all major podcasting platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Google Play, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts, and Castbox.

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Cover Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash