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UAE doctor says a contact-tracing app will be more effective in managing the coronavirus than a lockdown

An app that facilitates contact tracing will be more effective than a lockdown when it comes to containing the UAE’s Covid-19 outbreak, the chief medical officer of the country’s largest health-care network told CNBC.

Alhosn, which was launched in late April, is the United Arab Emirates’ official coronavirus testing and contact-tracing app. It relies on Bluetooth signals to identify people who have been in close proximity to Covid-19 patients, assuming all parties are using the app.

Many countries, especially in Asia, have utilized extensive contact tracing to contain the spread of the virus. That could be more useful than restricting movement, said Dr. Anwar Sallam, chief medical officer of Abu Dhabi Health Services.

“This app we feel, as a country, is going to be more effective in terms of preventing the spread of the virus compared to a total lockdown,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Thursday.

Residents hang their laundry off the railing on their balconies at their apartment building, to disinfect them under sunlight, in the city of Dubai on May 17, 2020, during the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Karim Sahib | AFP | Getty Images

Dr. Farida al-Hosani, official spokesperson for the government’s health sector, said in a statement that the app “protects our community by facilitating contact tracing on a national level,” hence curbing the spread of Covid-19 more quickly.

However, the app needs a “high number of subscribers to ensure effectiveness,” according to the statement by the ministry of health and prevention. Nearly 10 million people live in the UAE, and the app has been been downloaded “hundreds of thousands of times.”

“We do understand, life has to go back to normal. The UAE government have elected to go the gradual way and the guarded way at the same time,” Dr. Sallam added.

Economies around the world have been hit by factory and business closures as a result of the health crisis. The United Arab Emirates this week implemented expanded measures and revised penalties for offenders, less than a month after partially relaxing restrictions. Authorities said the decision was made because of an increase in infections stemming from some people in the community behaving irresponsibly, according to state news agency WAM.

The country has 26,004 confirmed cases and 233 reported deaths due to the coronavirus, according to data complied by Johns Hopkins University.

Separately, Dr. Sallam also said there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing the pandemic.

When asked about regulations in Dubai being different from those in Abu Dhabi, he said the local authorities are doing what they perceive to be most appropriate.

“It’s very difficult to have one approach and believe this approach is going to be correct,” he said. “I feel that the whole world is on a learning curve.”

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