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Israeli defence ministry launches COVID-19 voice-test study

Israeli Paramedics of the Israel's National Emergency Pre-Hospital Medical Organisation at the coronavirus national operations center, perform a coronavirus test exercise on a volunteer on 26 February 2020 in the central Israeli city of Kiryat Ono [JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images]
Israeli Paramedics of the Israel's National Emergency Pre-Hospital Medical Organisation at the coronavirus national operations center, perform a coronavirus test exercise on a volunteer on 26 February 2020 in the central Israeli city of Kiryat Ono [JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images]

An analysis of coronavirus patients’ voices could yield a “vocal fingerprint” to help detect COVID-19 symptoms in others and prioritise testing and treatment, the Israeli Defence Ministry said on Tuesday.

Starting this week, an Israeli startup company working with hospitals and academic institutions will sample voices of confirmed coronavirus patients through a mobile application in a research project led by the ministry.

“These voice samples will be analysed using an AI (Artificial Intelligence)-based algorithm in order to identify the unique vocal ‘fingerprint’, the ministry said in a statement.

The coronavirus affects the respiratory system and signs of distress can be reflected in the patterns of a person’s voice and breathing.

Tal Wenderow, President and CEO of Vocalis Health, the company that developed the mobile app, said that the algorithm would be used for remote diagnosis and monitoring.

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At this stage, the app would only be used by medical staff together with the patients taking part in the study, but the company’s website allows anyone to take part and send a voice sample to the researchers.

Researchers hope that healthcare systems would be able to use the data to prioritise testing and hospitalisation, allowing patients with light symptoms to stay at home.

The ministry said the monitoring system “can be conducted from afar, in order to prevent the spread of the disease and overburdening of the national healthcare system.”

The initial results of the study were expected within six weeks.

Israel has reported more than 1,600 coronavirus cases and three fatalities.

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