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NHS Covid-19 Contact Tracing App Launches in England and Wales

Michael Behr

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NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app

The NHS test and trace app has launched after several trials and redesigns.

The revamped NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app has been launched, with people aged 16 or over in England and Wales being encouraged to download it to help fight the coronavirus.

Using Bluetooth, The app logs when a user has come into close contact with others. Should the one user test positive for the disease, the other will be alerted and advised to self-isolate for 14 days.

It comes with a check-in scanner, where users can scan QR codes at venues to register attendance. The app will then alert owners if the venue later has a high rate of coronavirus infections.

New laws brought into force the week before the launch require businesses to display the official NHS QR code posters allowing people to check-in with the app.

With the test and trace app, users in England will need to hand over their personal details to restaurants and bars in order to enter.

Risk alerts are also provided based on postcode district, a symptom checker and a test booking function.

The age limit was reduced from 18 in previous trials to 16, in part to help prevent as many infections among students as possible as college and university students start reattending classes.

In addition to major tech partners Google and Apple, the app was developed with scientists from the Alan Turing Institute and Oxford University, Zuhlke Engineering, as well as medical experts, privacy groups, at-risk communities and teams from countries that use similar.

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The NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app has had a troubled development, with two previous attempts to release a contact tracing app failing. One app, which trialled on the Isle of White, was cancelled in June due to restrictions posed by Apple.

This meant that only 4% of iPhone users were detected by the software when the user’s handsets were not in use.

Privacy groups also raised data protection concerns about how the app stored personal details, leading the government to switch to a decentralised model.

To help meet these concerns, the app comes with data protection systems – it does not hold any personal information, such as name, address or date of birth. It uses the first half of a user’s postcode and no personal data is shared with the government or the NHS.

The app also generates a random ID for an individual’s device to add an extra layer of security and preserve anonymity.

UK government Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We have worked extensively with tech companies, international partners, and privacy and medical experts – and learned from the trials – to develop an app that is secure, simple to use and will help keep our country safe.”

The app has been released as the UK recorded over 6,000 new cases in one day, similar to daily spikes that were seen during the height of lockdown.

With new restrictions being brought into force across the country, the new app has been launched amid fears of a second lockdown.

Michael Behr

Senior Staff Writer

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