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England Contact Tracing App to be Trialled After Revamp

David Paul

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contact tracing

The software, based on Apple and Google’s contact tracing model, will enter public trials with the intention of helping the NHS trace potential Covid carriers.

England is set to begin trials on its revamped contact tracing app after months of criticism and past attempts at releasing an app failing to materialise.

The app will be based on Apple and Google’s method of smartphones detecting others via Bluetooth.

Users can use their mobile phones to log when they have been close to another person for a period, like apps used in other countries.

If one of the users is diagnosed with Covid-19, the app will contact and alert the other users before they show symptoms, reducing the chance of asymptomatic transmission and slowing the spread.

The app will also ask users to scan a QR code when they enter a property so that, if coronavirus is detected on that premises later, they can be contacted.

The new app will be designed to help the NHS to log cases, which is currently using the manual contact trace system. Although that system can be effective, it has limitations in terms of asymptomatic carriers.

The UK government has already made two attempts to release a contact tracing app, with varying results. An app trailed on the Isle of White was cancelled in June due to restrictions posed by Apple.

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The NHSX app used an alternative system to the new version, which was subject to restrictions placed on Bluetooth when using third-party apps. This caused only 4% of iPhone users to be detected by the software after the app ‘slept’ when the handsets were not in use.

Supposedly engineers of the new app are still dealing with an issue where the technology incorrectly flags people as being within two metres of others.

Speaking to the BBC, Prof Christophe Fraser, a scientific advisor to the Department of Health from Oxford University, said: “We need the app to help stop transmission by tracing close-proximity contacts as quickly and as comprehensively as possible, capturing those contacts we don’t know or don’t remember meeting.

“The app should enable us to return to more normal daily activities with the reassurance that our contacts can be rapidly and anonymously notified if we get infected.”

The Scottish Government has also announced its own contact tracing technology, set to be released in the autumn.

The app is designed to work alongside England’s version and will help people get access to a test if needed.

The proximity tracing app will be available via the Apple and Google app stores and will use Bluetooth technology to anonymously alert users if they have been in close contact with another user who has tested positive for coronavirus.

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Commenting on the app, Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “This new app will offer an additional level of protection, supporting NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect system to continue to drive down the spread of Covid-19 across the country.

“It builds on the existing person to person contact tracing which remains the most robust method of contacting those who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.

“Users of the app who test positive will still get a call from a contact tracer to confirm their details and who they have been in close contact with. The app will, however, allow contacts unknown to the positive individual to be traced – for example, fellow passengers on a train or bus.”

Freeman added: “We also know that not everyone uses a mobile phone or will be able to access the app, which is why this software is very much there to complement existing contact tracing methods.”

David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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