The government has urged people living in England and Wales to download the NHS’s coronavirus contact-tracing app to help tackle the worrying rise in coronavirus cases, after it was officially released.
It will be available to everyone aged 16 and over and will work in multiple languages. Mobile network operators Vodafone, Three, EE, O2, Sky and Virgin have said in-app activity will not lower customers’ data allowances.
The launch comes after government figures showed the UK reported 6,178 coronavirus cases yesterday. That was up 1,252 since Tuesday. Also, 37 deaths were reported.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said pubs must start closing at 10pm and people should work from home if they can. Indoor sports have been banned, among other measures.
The new contact-tracing app works by using Bluetooth technology to measure the amount of time you spend near other users. It can then alert you if you have been close to someone who later tests positive for coronavirus.
If you have been near a Covid-positive person, it will advise you to self-isolate. The NHS Covid-19 app will also allow you to book a test if needed and get your test results.
Health secretary Matt Handcock said: “I urge everyone who can to download and use the app to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
NHS Covid-19 contact-tracing app has suffered setbacks
The NHS’s Covid-19 contact-tracing app was originally supposed to be released months ago. Trials on the Isle of Wight began in May. Hancock once said the app would be ready by mid-May.
Yet the app has suffered a series of set-backs. In June, Hancock had to abandon a centralised app after spending months and millions of pounds on it. The NHS switched to an alternative design from Apple and Google.
The Labour party has also sharply criticised the government for the lack of tests that are available. Last week, Hancock said sorting out the major test shortage could take two weeks.
Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said last week that “it has become not so much ‘test and trace’, as ‘trace a test’”.
Government says privacy is paramount
One of the key features of the new app is the ability for people to scan QR codes at businesses to check-in. This allows the app to keep track of where people have been and where Covid hotspots might be.
The government said the app “has been designed with user privacy in mind”. It creates a random ID which can be exchanged via Bluetooth and not GPS. The IDs regenerate frequently.
The app will not hold personal information such as your name, address, or date of birth, the government said. It requires only the first half of your postcode and no personal data is shared with the government or the NHS.
However, many civil liberties campaigners still have concerns about a widespread movement-tracing app.
Dido Harding, head England’s NHS test and trace programme, said: “This is a welcome step in protecting those around us.”
She said the NHS Covid-19 app lets people “find out if they are at risk of having caught the virus and need to self solate, order a test if they have symptoms, and access the right guidance and advice”.