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Saturday, Oct 24, 2020

How does the NHS contact tracing app work and when can you download it?

During the government’s coronavirus response briefing from London yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the NHS was working on a new app that will tell people if they’ve been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive for the virus.

The contact tracing app is the latest development from the NHS and the government in a bid to curb the rate of Covid-19 infections and eventually lift the lockdown measures currently in place across the UK.

During the announcement yesterday Mr Hancock said: ‘As we ramp up our ability to test in large numbers, we also need to make sure we have the ability to trace contacts just as effectively.

‘So today I wanted to outline the next step: A new NHS app for contact tracing.’

How does the NHS contact tracing app work?

The Health Secretary explained during the briefing yesterday that the new NHS app will rely on people downloading the technology and then self-reporting on the app if they feel unwell.

If someone then tests positive for coronavirus, they must update the app again and any other users who have been in close proximity with that person will be alerted anonymously and told to self isolate for 14 days.

‘If you become unwell with the symptoms of coronavirus, you can securely tell this new NHS app. The app will then send an alert anonymously to other app users that you’ve been in significant contact with over the past few days, even before you had symptoms, so that they know and can act accordingly,’ Mr Hancock explained.

‘All data will be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards and would only be used for NHS care and research and we won’t hold it any longer than is needed.

Around 60 per cent of the UK’s adult population will need to sign up and use the app in order for the technology, developed by digital transformation hub NHSX, to be effective.

In China, where the virus originated, digital contact tracing has been one of the methods used to contain the virus within the country ahead of their lockdown measures being lifted. It is hoped that the new app will have similar positive results over here and help to curb the rate of infection.

When can you download the new NHS contact tracer app?

The app is not currently available to download but is said to be in the advanced stages of developement.

Mr Hancock said: ‘We are already testing this app and as we do this we are working with the world’s leading tech companies and renowned experts in clinical safety and digital ethics so that we can get this right.’

It is hoped that the app will be ready to launch and use in a couple of weeks.

The BBC reports that a pre-release version of the software will be tested with families at a secure location in the North of England next week.

Meanwhile, Apple and Google have announced they will adapt their respective operating systems so the app can use their API.

‘Since COVID-19 can be transmitted through close proximity to affected individuals, public health officials have identified contact tracing as a valuable tool to help contain its spread,’ both companies wrote on their respective blogs.

‘A number of leading public health authorities, universities, and NGOs around the world have been doing important work to develop opt-in contact tracing technology.

‘To further this cause, Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing.’


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