(Reuters) — As Britain’s COVID-19 infections soared in the spring, the government reached for what it hoped could be a game changer – a smartphone app that could automate some of the work of human contact tracers.

The origin of the NHS COVID-19 App goes back to a meeting on March 7 when three Oxford scientists met experts at NHSX, the technical arm of the UK’s health service. The scientists presented an analysis that concluded manual contact tracing alone couldn’t control the epidemic.

“Given the infectiousness of SARS-CoV-2 and the high proportion of transmissions from presymptomatic individuals, controlling the epidemic by manual contact tracing is infeasible,” concluded the Oxford scientists’ paper, which was published in the journal Science two months later.

The Oxford researchers believed

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