Scotland to develop Covid-19 contact tracing app based on software already used in Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, amidst delay to NHS England app
Scotland is to develop its own coronavirus-tracing smartphone app, based on a system already in use in the Republic of Ireland.
It hopes to have the app ready for use in the autumn.
Northern Ireland also opted to create an app based on the Republic of Ireland’s app, called Covid Tracker, which was announced in May and released in July.
The Northern Ireland app launched on Apple’s App Store and Google Play on Thursday.
The moves follow the cancellation of an app being developed by the NHS for England, following trials on the Isle of Wight that highlighted significant shortcomings.
The apps for the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland are all developed by NearForm, a software firm based in Tramore, in southern Ireland.
They use an exposure-notification framework released by Apple and Google in May.
Apple and Google’s framework is decentralized, meaning contact data is stored on devices, which also carry out contact-matching processes.
The decentralized model protects users’ privacy, but does not give governments the ability to centrally process and analyze the apps’ exposure data.
The NHS had initially planned to use a centralized model that it believed would help it to locate and control virus hotspots.
But in June, it said it would switch to the Apple-Google model.
The use of Apple and Google’s framework means Scotland’s app should be compatible with those in use in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Gibraltar and a number of other European countries.
It should also eventually be compatible with the NHS’ England app, and Scottish authorities said they are in discussions with the UK government to ensure this is the case.
Contact-tracing apps are intended to be used alongside manual contact-tracing procedures to help prevent further outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.
They use Bluetooth technology to keep track of whom the user comes into close contact with, then send an alert if the user has been exposed to someone who has tested positive for Covid-19, allowing the user to self-isolate.
Nicola Sturgeon said the Republic of Ireland app had been “very successful”.
She added that smartphone technology was seen as a “useful enhancement” but was not a replacement for “on the ground, person-to-person” contact tracing.
Scotland’s health secretary, Jeane Freeman, said users of Scotland’s app would still receive a telephone call to confirm their details and whom they have been in close contact with.
“The app will, however, allow contacts unknown to the positive individual to be traced – for example fellow passengers on a train or bus,” she said at a press briefing.
“We also know that not everyone uses a mobile phone or will be able to access the app, which is why this software is very much there to complement existing contact tracing methods,” Freeman added.