The Government has officially launched today the NHS COVID-19 contact tracing app, following trials on the Isle of Wight and in the London borough of Newham, as well as with NHS volunteer respondents.
The app, which is part of the NHS Test and Trace service in England and the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service in Wales, will be used in addition to traditional contact tracing methods to notify users if they come into contact with someone with COVID-19.
techUK’s Health and Social Care team was invited to a briefing session organised by the Department of Health and Social Care this week, where representatives from the product and development teams provided an overview of the tool.
There, we heard that the app has six key features:
- Trace – It uses smartphones’ exposure logging feature to identify if app users have spent time near others that have tested positive for the coronavirus. It detects and registers users using random unique IDs in order to protect their identity and privacy, and it will work on phones while locked, but only if Bluetooth is enabled (using Bluetooth Low Energy). App users testing positive can choose if they want others to be alerted. Data is only stored on the phone and the app can be deleted, along with the data, whenever the users choose to do so. The Government is emphasising that it cannot be used to identify, track, check if someone is self-isolating or by law enforcement agencies.
- Alert – When registering, users will be asked to enter the first half of their postcode, which means they will be able to check the risk level in their area. This is shared with the NHS to help predict and manage local services and make improvements to the app, but the Government stresses that the exact location of the users cannot be identified given that there are around 8,000 addresses in one postcode district.
- Check-in – Using the app, individuals will be able to keep a log of the venues visited by scanning NHS Test and Trace QR codes. The app then registers the time spent at the venue, but it will automatically delete the list every 21 days - or sooner if users choose to do so. If others that were at the venue later test positive, they may be alerted. Businesses have been urged to make sure they have NHS QR code posters at the entrance so that those downloading the app can use it to check in.
- Symptoms – If one is feeling unwell, the app can be used to check if their symptoms are related to COVID-19.
- Test – If users have symptoms indicating that they might have COVID-19, the app will direct them to a website where they can book a test.
- Isolate – If users have received advice to self-isolate, the app provides them with a countdown timer to help track how long they need to self-isolate for.
The short video below explains how the app is going to work.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said today:
“We are at a tipping point in our efforts to control the spread of this virus. With infection rates rising we must use every tool at our disposal to prevent transmission, including the latest technology.
“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.
“Today’s launch marks an important step forward in our fight against this invisible killer and I urge everyone who can to download and use the app to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
In a joint statement, techUK members Apple and Google added:
“We built the exposure notifications system to enable public health authorities in their efforts to develop apps to help reduce the spread of the virus while ensuring people can trust in the privacy-preserving design. We are committed to supporting the government’s effort to launch an app based on this technology.”