COVID-19 smartphone app finally launches in England and Wales

Platform News: UK Parliament, Technology and Policy

England and Wales launch a COVID-19 smartphone app today, enabling users to trace contacts, assess the neighbourhood level of risk and record visits to venues such as bars, four months after the technology was first promised to the public.

The NHS COVID-19 app comes as the UK braces for another wave of the virus, with daily cases numbers rising at rates not seen since the peak of the pandemic and also a testing system not able to cope with demand in most locations.

The government had stated a COVID-19 app would arrive in May, but early trials were dogged by a myriad of ongoing problems, and programmers abandoned the home-grown app in favour of Apple and Google’s version in June.

As the delay grew, the authorities downplayed the importance of smartphones in combating COVID-19, stating that instead of an app being fundamental to the test and follow system, it had been “the cherry on the cake”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, however, said that with infection rates rising, each tool available must be utilized to prevent transmission, including the most recent 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,” he explained.

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The app uses Bluetooth signs to log when a user is connected with another user, normally meaning within two metres for a quarter of an hour, or longer.

If a person then tests positive for coronavirus, they can choose to share the result anonymously using their intimate contacts, who will each receive an alert and will need to isolate for 14 days.

The app creates a random ID for each user to protect privacy, and fits cases on the device rather than on a central server, as was the situation from the very first iteration.

It will also allow users to book a COVID-19 test subject to availability, check symptoms, and enrol at venues using a QR-type bar code displayed by businesses.

Individuals aged over 16 will be invited to download the app by commercials with the strapline, “Protect your loved ones”.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed the ‘COVID-19 smartphone app finally launches in England and Wales‘ article. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Paul Sandle. Editing by Hugh Lawson.

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