NHS Covid-19 Tracing App Set For Public Trials Today

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Three months later than planned, NHS Coronavirus contact tracing app for England and Wales is to begin public trials today

The NHS Coronavirus track and trace app, which has been under development for months, will reportedly begin a public trial on Thursday.

The redesigned app had been expected any day now, but according to the BBC, the redesigned coronavirus contact tracing app will begin its trial on Thursday.

The app itself is designed to support the NHS nationwide test-and-trace effort by keeping a log of other people who come into close contact with the user. The app itself has been delayed for three months because of security and privacy concerns.

Novel coronavirus. Image credit: CDCC
Image credit: CDCC

England, Wales

The NHS app for England and Wales has been under development for a number of months by NHSX, the Department of Health’s NHS technology division.

The beta app had been initially been tested at a Royal Air Force base in North Yorkshire, before it was trialled with the general public on the Isle of Wight, where it was downloaded more than 55,000 times.

But in June the government abandoned the first centralised version of the app, and instead opted for the decentralised approach used by the Apple-Google framework.

But concerns soon surfaced about the accuracy of the Apple-Google framework.

Engineers, according to the BBC, are still trying to reduce how often the Bluetooth-based tech wrongly flags people as being within 2m (6.6ft) of each other.

The first iteration of the app, developed without the smartphone giants’ built-in Exposure Notifications framework, had registered about 75 percent of nearby Android phones but only 4 percent of iPhones.

The second version, which uses the Apple and Google framework, logged 99 percent of both types of phones but produced inaccurate distance calculations.

Isle of Wight Trial

So now according to the BBC, the Isle of Wight will be involved again with the revised app, along with one other area and a volunteer group.

The government apparently intends to launch the experiment without much fanfare, because it is still not clear when a official national rollout will occur.

The central thrust of the app is to use people’s smartphones to log when they have been close to another person for so long, that there is a high risk of contagion.

And if one user is later diagnosed with the disease, the other person can be alerted to the fact before they begin exhibiting symptoms.

In addition to this, the BBC said that users will also be asked to scan a QR barcode when they enter a property, to provide a means to later alert them to the fact that they visited a location linked to multiple infections.

Northern Ireland, Scotland

Other countries in the United Kingdom are going their own route.

Last month Northern Ireland launched its own Coronavirus app (also based the Apple-Google framework) for tracking and tracing Covid-19, after it was released to Apple’s App Store and Google Play.

That app, called StopCOVID NI, is designed to work alongside the existing phone-based contact tracing programme already in place in NI.

The StopCovidNI aims to work alongside the Coronavirus tracing app used by the Republic of Ireland.

Both apps have reportedly been designed by the same company, Nearform.

Scotland meanwhile is also developing its own Coronavirus contact-tracing app, which it hopes to have ready for use in the autumn.

Scotland is said to be adapting the Republic of Ireland app, so it should be compatible with the apps used by Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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