Zoe Covid-tracking app loses government funding

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An app that was widely used to track the symptoms of Covid will not have its government funding renewed as the UK adapts to living with the disease.

Co-founder of the Zoe Covid study app, Prof Tim Spector, labelled the decision “a really bad mistake”.

The app had received more than £5m in grants from the UK’s Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

The UKHSA said it would continue to monitor Covid-19 “through our world-leading studies and many data sources”.

The Zoe app offered a new way to track diseases, with users inputting symptoms and experts analysing the data.

It was launched in March 2020 and over the next two years the app, developed by King’s College London and technology company Zoe, helped discover new symptoms of Covid.

It also reported on the effects of vaccines and provided up-to-date predictions about the spread of the pandemic.

With 4.7 million users and 850,000 daily contributors, recording more than 480 million health reports, the app was part of one of the largest studies of its kind in the world and led to 40 peer-reviewed scientific papers based on the findings.

The app was one of the first to show that a loss of smell was a Covid symptom
In a statement posted on YouTube, epidemiologist Prof Spector said: “The UK government has informed us with just a few weeks’ notice that we will no longer be receiving funding from them in order to track Covid or help us develop the study further to look at other things, such as heart disease, cancer or dementia.

“This is really disappointing. Only a few weeks ago they told me it was virtually certain they would continue to fund us.

“We have shown how effective our methods can be.”

Prof Spector said it was relatively cheap to run compared with other methods for tracking diseases.

“We strongly believe that this is a really bad mistake. Zoe could have been the tool that protects the UK from the next pandemic and saves the NHS millions as we try to find ways to prevent major diseases.”

Prof Spector said the app also had a use beyond Covid – as a “health surveillance tool” for many diseases.

The future of the app is uncertain. It will be funded in the short term by the co-founders, and Prof Spector remains hopeful the government might change its mind.

He appealed on Twitter to those who used the app and saw its value to email the health security agency.

In a statement the UKHSA said: “Due to the reduction in serious illness and deaths from Covid-19 we begin a new phase of living with the virus.

“We thank all participants for supporting our surveillance work during the most demanding public health crisis in living memory.”