NHS Covid-19 Tracing App For England, Wales, Nears Launch

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Date for limited rollout of delayed NHS track and trace app for England and Wales expected to be announced within next couple of days

The NHS track and trace app which has been under development for months, could soon be arriving for users in England and Wales.

According to the Times newspaper, ministers will launch a scale scaled back version of the Coronavirus app this month, after accepting that the Apple-Google framework is not accurate enough to be used for contact tracing.

This scaled back version (according to the Times) will instead tell people about infection levels in their area and allows them to use personal information to calculate a risk score.

England, Wales

The app was originally developed as an automated form of contact tracing, but is likely to begin instead as an individualised information and advice service – informing people about their personal exposure to coronavirus.

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

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

But concerns about the accuracy of the Apple-Google framework were raised in June.

The first iteration of the app, developed without the smartphone giants’ built-in Exposure Notifications framework, 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, officials said.

App testing

The BBC meanwhile reported that the second iteration of the app for England and Wales will soon be tested by members of the public.

It reported that officials hope to confirm the date for the limited roll-out within a few days. Indeed, it could be as soon as next week.

The app will let people scan barcode-like QR codes to log venue visits, as well as implementing Apple and Google’s method of detecting other smartphones.

But efforts are still ongoing to deliver medical test results within the product.

According to the BBC, users will get alerts if others they have recently been close declare that they have been diagnosed with the Coronavirus.

The app is also expected to provide information about the prevalence of the virus in local areas, in an effort to encourage people to be more cautious if infections rise.

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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