Skip to content

Using digital contact tracing tools to reduce the spread of COVID-19

This note outlines key considerations to develop and deploy digital contact tracing tools based on a review of initiatives.

Heather Lanthorn 28 April 2020

This note outlines key considerations to develop and deploy digital contact tracing tools based on a review of initiatives launched to date to address COVID-19 in various countries and the information available on early lessons. We primarily focus on digital tools that can identify potential COVID-19 cases based on geographic proximity to a known case. We briefly touch on case management functionality and tools, which can be used by health and government officials to manage, track, encourage, and educate individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Note on digital contact tracing tools - 377 KB

Download PDF


Essential complementary measures

  • Digital contact tracing tools must be combined with increased testing and isolation measures.
  • Deploying a contact tracing digital application should be accompanied by clear communication to the public about how the information collected will be used and why.
  • To encourage the adoption of digital tools, governments should emphasize the individual and public benefits of their widespread use, and be transparent about how data is collected, shared, and used.
  • Proximity tracking tools using location data will likely not capture large, potentially vulnerable segments of the population (including rural, elderly, and poor populations); alternative tools should be considered to target these populations.
  • When combined with widespread, contact tracing, and isolation can help to contain the spread of the virus, and could thus ease movement restrictions. But hospital capacity to manage and treat the disease will still be required.

Important considerations for tool selection and design 

  • Governments need to recognize the trade-off between data accessibility and privacy features and incorporate this into the selection and design of the tool to be used.
  • Contact tracing applications must be easy to use, especially by populations with low literacy and across language groups.
  • Application developers and governments should maximize the ease of data sharing and use, both by the public and government actors involved in contact tracing.