COVID-19: helping those at-risk, together

24th April 2020

Today, the COVID Symptom Tracker app, The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and the UK’s largest health based charities are joining forces in order to reach the most at risk groups, including those with pre-existing health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma and those over 70s. 

The COVID-19 Symptom Tracker app has been developed by King’s College London and health science company ZOE, and it is endorsed by the Welsh Government, NHS Wales, the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland. More than 2.5 million participants have downloaded the app and are using it to regularly report on their health, making it the largest public science project of its kind anywhere in the world.

The over-70s and those who have pre existing health conditions appear to be most at risk from the effects of COVID-19, yet they are significantly under-represented in the group of people currently providing data through the app. However, early analysis shows that the illness may start with different symptoms in these groups, such as diarrhoea and confusion, rather than the classic cough and fever.

One of the biggest barriers to recruiting people with pre-existing health conditions and those over 70 was access to technology. Developers at ZOE – the company behind the app – have now updated it to allow multiple user profiles, so that family, friends or carers can log daily health reports on behalf of anyone who wishes to take part in the study but does not have access to a smartphone.

Charities including Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, AGE UK, Alzheimer’s Society, Diabetes UK, Versus Arthritis (full list below) and doctors’ membership bodies including the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and Royal College of Surgeons of England (full list below), have come together to urge people, especially over 70 and anyone with a pre-existing health issue such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, dementia and other age-related conditions to link up with their relatives, or log on themselves, to help build an accurate picture of how COVID-19 affects us all.

The findings from the research will help to answer key questions that many people are worried about, such as:

  • Which underlying health conditions increase the risk of COVID-19?
  • Does having asthma put me at higher risk?
  • Which of my medications may be protecting me?
  • I’m older but fit and healthy – am I still at increased risk?
  • Is mild high blood pressure or type II diabetes a real risk factor for COVID-19?
  • Will stopping smoking reduce my risk from COVID-19?
  • I’m living with cancer – what does COVID-19 mean for me?
  • Is it safe to take ibuprofen painkillers?
  • Should I continue to take steroids for my arthritis?
  • Is this skin rash a sign of COVID-19?
  • Is COVID-19 common in my area right now?

Anyone can join the study by downloading the simple, free COVID Symptom Tracker app from and answering a few questions about their health and medications. Participants then spend a minute checking in every day, whether they are feeling physically healthy or experiencing any new symptoms.

Study leader Dr Claire Steves, Clinical Senior Lecturer at King’s College London and Consultant Geriatrician at Guys and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust, says: “We have been blown away by the public’s response to the app and the data collected so far has been invaluable. However, we have a clear gap in the data, so in order for us to really understand how the virus affects those over 70 and with pre-existing health conditions we need the support of the public more than ever to help us reach these individuals.”

Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology and PI of the overall study at King’s College London said: “Whether you’re fit and well or have an existing health condition, using the app to report daily on your own health and that of your loved ones will be making a really valuable contribution to the fight against COVID-19.”

President of the Royal College of Physicians Professor Andrew Goddard said: “One of the most difficult challenges about this coronavirus is the wide range of symptoms people are presenting with and the heart-breaking effect COVID-19 has from person to person – mild in many to life threatening for others in what seems like just moments. We urgently need to learn more about COVID-19 and until we have widespread population testing of antibodies, trackers like this app are really useful.”

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “This is an exciting development that is already redefining the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19. As well as providing vital evidence to support the work of GPs and the medical profession, it could identify patients who are most susceptible at a much earlier stage. It has the potential to make a major contribution to our fight against the disease.”

President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, Professor Derek Alderson said: “It is crucial we build as detailed a picture as possible about this devastating virus, including who is most affected and the wide range of symptoms people present with. This app will play an important contribution and I welcome its development.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “For both now and the future it’s crucial that we understand in as much detail as possible the impact of this virus on older people and the fact this initiative can provide valuable new insights is potentially very exciting and  it’s one we are pleased to support.”

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at British Heart Foundation said: “Information to date suggests that people with heart and circulatory diseases are at higher risk of complications caused by the novel coronavirus. We need to better understand why this may be the case and how severely they are affected. Collecting real world data from as many people as possible will help us understand this. It will also provide accurate information which can be used to plan how we emerge from the pandemic. We urge all our supporters and their families to download the app today, even if you are feeling healthy. In doing so, you’ll be contributing to the fight against the coronavirus.” 

Dr Stephen Simpson, Director of Research at Versus Arthritis said: “The impact of COVID-19 on the elderly and those with long term conditions, like arthritis, needs to be better understood so that we can support and help them through this difficult time.  We are delighted to support innovative means of being able to monitor, track and capture vital data around health and symptoms across all the UK nations, as provided by this exciting initiative and encourage people to participate in all data opportunities to enable the fight against coronavirus.”

Deborah Alsina MBE, chief executive of the national older people’s charity Independent Age, said: “Since the Covid19 outbreak took hold, people of all ages have wanted to help our family, friends and neighbours through this difficult time. If you are over 70, taking just one minute a day to log your symptoms could help play a vital part in scientific understanding of the virus and its relative risk in different age groups.”

Dr Lucy Chambers is Head of Research Communications at Diabetes UK. She said: “We need to urgently address the current gaps in knowledge around how COVID-19 affects people living with pre-existing health conditions – including those living with any type of diabetes. This is why it is crucial that everyone does their bit to help scientists gather the information needed to respond effectively to the pandemic and save lives. If you – or someone in your family – live with diabetes, we encourage you to help advance our understanding of how the virus affects people with diabetes by downloading the COVID Symptom Tracker app and logging how you or those you might care for feel daily.”

Rachel Connor, Director of Research Partnerships at the type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, said: “There is currently no good information to tell us how type 1 diabetes interacts with COVID-19. The type 1 diabetes community knows the value – and the power – of research data. So we at JDRF are encouraging people with type 1 diabetes to use the app and help beat Covid-19.”

Dr Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:  “Most people with dementia are aged over 70, and will not only be at a higher risk for severe symptoms of COVID-19, but may be more likely to face challenges using smartphone technology. Research is vital for overcoming any medical condition, and we are pleased to able to support the COVID-19 Symptom Tracker app, which could also provide crucial information about how COVID-19 affects people with dementia. We encourage anyone who is currently caring for someone with dementia to help log daily symptom reports, with their loved one’s consent, if they need support.”

Tina Woods, CEO of Longevity International and Secretariat Director of APPG for Longevity, said: “Sadly, those most affected by the COVID-19 epidemic are older, in poor health and in the most deprived and often digitally excluded communities.  This initiative is urgently needed to reach these vulnerable populations as quickly as possible to get an accurate picture of the future impact of epidemic.”

Suzanne Cass, CEO at ASH Wales said: “It is crucially important that we build up a picture of  how Covid-19 affects the population so that we can better understand who is most at risk from the virus and why. We know that smokers are more likely to suffer severe complications if they catch Covid-19. Smoking weakens the body’s lung defences and leads to respiratory and heart conditions – all of which could be risk factors for Covid-19. We would urge the 17% of adults in Wales that smoke to download this app so that we can better understand the risks they face and the symptoms they could experience. Family members and those living with smokers could also provide vital information on their behalf.”

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges is the umbrella organisation for the UK and Ireland’s 23 medical royal colleges and faculties, and represents the professional interests of the UK and Ireland’s 220,000 doctors. 

Colleges include: 

  • Association of Medical Royal Colleges
  • Royal College of General Practitioners
  • Royal College of Practitioner 
  • Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
  • Royal College of Surgeons of England
  • Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

Full list of charity partners:

  • Age UK 
  • Alzheimers Research UK
  • ASH Wales 
  • British Heart Foundation 
  • Cancer Research UK 
  • Carers Mending the Gap 
  • Care England / APPG for Longevity
  • Diabetes UK 
  • Great Manchester Ageing Hub 
  • JDRF – Type 1 diabetes 
  • The Physiological Society 
  • Tommy’s 
  • St Monica’s Trust
  • Versus Arthritis

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