England, Wales Contact Tracing App To Launch On 24 September

England and Wales will get its delayed Coronavirus contact tracing app later this month, the government has confirmed.

According to the Government announcement, the NHS Covid-19 app will launch on Thursday 24 September in England and Wales, including QR check-in at venues such as pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and cinemas.

The announcement comes days after Scotland uploaded its ‘Protect Scotland’ Coronavirus contact tracing app, to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Image credit: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

Launch date

In the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland was the first to the punch when it released its app in July, based on the NearForm app used by the Republic of Ireland.

Scotland also modelled its Protect Scotland app on NearForm’s app.

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

The government in June, after concerns were expressed about privacy issues, abandoned the first centralised open source version of the app, and instead opted for the decentralised approach used by the Apple-Google framework.

Now the government is urging businesses across England and Wales to ensure they have NHS QR code posters visible on entry, so customers who have downloaded the new NHS Covid-19 app can use their smartphones to easily check-in.

The move comes ahead of a national launch of the NHS Covid-19 app across England and Wales on Thursday 24 September.

The government hopes that with the launch of the new Covid-19 app, customers and visitors in England will be able to check-in on entry with their phone instead of filling out a check-in book or tool specific to a business.

This will allow NHS Test and Trace to contact customers with public health advice should there be a Covid-19 outbreak, said the government.

QR codes

The deployment in England, of QR codes, will help businesses meet the new legal requirement to record the contact details of customers, visitors and staff on their premises.

“We need to use every tool at our disposal to control the spread of the virus including cutting-edge technology,” said Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock. “The launch of the app later this month across England and Wales is a defining moment and will aid our ability to contain the virus at a critical time.”

“QR codes provide an easy and simple way to collect contact details to support the NHS Test and Trace system,” said Hancock. “Hospitality businesses can now download posters for their premises ahead of the launch of the NHS Covid-19 app. This will allow the public to seamlessly check-in to venues using the app when it launches.”

“It is vital we are using the NHS Test and Trace system to reach as many people as possible to prevent outbreaks and stop this virus in its tracks” he added. “This function will make it simple and easy so we can keep this virus under control.”

Businesses already using their own QR system are encouraged to switch to the NHS Test and Trace QR code.

Earlier this month Apple and Alphabet’s Google division had announced a new Covid-19 contact tracing system, without the need for governments to build their own individual apps.

Open source

One expert questioned the delayed launch, which he said demonstrates a flawed understanding in Government of the need for rapid innovation in the face of a global pandemic.

He also criticised the government for not adopting an open approach to developing the app.

“While it’s encouraging to see the UK’s track and trace app eventually scheduled to launch, the government needs to urgently investigate why it took so long,” said Steve Williamson, general manager EMEA at Acquia, an open source digital experience platform.

“From a technological standpoint, there is no excuse for the delay,” said Williamson. “And what the delay reveals is a flawed understanding of software development at the heart of Downing Street. In a pandemic, speed is critical. When it comes to developing high-quality software at speed, using open source is essential, which other nations were quick to recognise.”

“Countries such as Ireland, Germany, and Italy used open source to build their own applications months ago,” he added. “Sadly the UK did not follow suit, and wasted millions of pounds and hours of resources trying to build its own version.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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