Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 232 million confirmed cases have been reported worldwide. A major concern is the Delta variant, a new and highly contagious strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that was first identified in India last December. According to GlobalData, the Delta variant has now been identified in around 160 countries, where it has triggered several new outbreaks. To curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and the Delta variant, several countries have started digital contact tracing programmes. Effective contact tracing and a continual push for increased vaccination will be critical to controlling the pandemic.

Preliminary results from a modelling study published in medRxiv last month highlight the effect of quick and effective contact tracing on the transmission rate of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, in particular when dealing with asymptomatic cases. The study simulated several scenarios and found that a combination of high daily vaccination rates and low contact tracing effectiveness (30%) lead to an increase in the untraced infectious population. When high vaccination rates were paired with contact tracing with an effectiveness of 70%, however, the highest number of daily cases was reduced by 70% compared with only 30% contact tracing effectiveness. Some examples of countries that have used digital technology to aid in contact tracing are China, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. Through a combination of testing, contact tracing and isolation, these countries were able to slow down the spread of the virus at the start of the pandemic.

GlobalData’s analysis of major depressive disorder (MDD) further reveals that in 2019, the 12-month total prevalence was twice as high in women, at 10.6% in women and 5.5% in men in the eight major markets (8MM), namely the US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK, Japan and Australia. Studies have suggested that this higher prevalence of MDD in women is partially due to women experiencing specific forms of depression that are associated with changes in ovarian hormones. Other factors that may contribute to an increased prevalence of MDD in women, however, could be differences in coping styles. Lifestyle circumstances and culture are also recognised as factors that influence the difference in MDD prevalence in men and women. For example, women who work outside the home are also more likely to handle most home responsibilities, leading to work overload.

Understanding who is infected, and then in broader circles identifying who has recently been in close contact with an infected person, allows public health officials to isolate individuals and break the chain of transmission. Effective contact tracing has been shown to dramatically reduce the impact of outbreaks. Contact tracing has been used in several epidemics like the Ebola outbreaks in 2014 and SARS in 2003. Supplementing traditional contact tracing with digital contact tracing is especially important to identify asymptomatic cases, which are often missed, and which account for around 20% of Covid-19 cases.

With the Delta variant circulating in so many countries, tracing and isolating asymptomatic cases will help reduce the impact of recent outbreaks. Using technology for contact tracing can also help overcome the lack of human resources and produce a swifter response to outbreaks. Single public health interventions have not been sufficient in controlling the pandemic; the key lies in a multi-intervention approach where technology, contact tracing and vaccination can identify cases early and prevent severe illness in the population.