Wednesday, 21 Oct 2020

New contact tracing app launches today after months of delays

Britons will be urged to download the new coronavirus contact tracing app as it launches today following months of delay and questions over its effectiveness.

The latest version of the app will be rolled out across England and Wales and health officials hope it will play a key role in bringing down the surging infection rate.

It will use Bluetooth technology to monitor contacts and alert a user if they have been exposed to the virus by coming into contact with an infected person. But the app could put a strain on the Government’s test and trace scheme at a time when Britons say they cannot access home kits online, with many queuing outside testing centres for hours.

The app was supposed to be rolled out four months ago as part of Boris Johnson’s ‘world beating’ testing system and was described as ‘the best possible way to help the NHS’ – but it has been plagued by doubts over its effectiveness. Results from other countries already using apps have also been mixed.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had planned to launch the NHSX app in May but the health secretary was forced to abandon it after it failed to work on the majority of smartphones. Google and Apple then took over the project.

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Residents on the Isle of Wight and in the London borough of Newham have been trialling the latest version since mid-August.

Its launch comes as the UK is at a ‘tipping point’, as 6,178 positive tests were recorded on Wednesday – the highest daily toll since May.

Use of the software is voluntary, so its success will depend heavily on how many people choose to download and use it.

The DHSC will launch a TV advertising campaign tonight urging the public to download it to ‘protect your loved ones’.

The app will use Bluetooth to keep an anonymous log of people a user has come into contact with. If a person develops symptoms, they can check with the app and book a test.

Should it come back positive, close contacts will be informed to self-isolate for two weeks by an app notification.

A QR code scanning feature is also available, allowing people to check-in to venues they visit and easily share their contact details for human tracing efforts.

Scientific adviser to the Test and Trace Programme, Professor Christophe Fraser, said: ‘Our Oxford University research team analysis has shown the potential to meaningfully reduce the number of coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and deaths across the population from as little as 15% of the whole population downloading the app and following the guidance to self-isolate.

‘This means each one of us can make a difference to help stop the spread of infection, save lives and help protect our loved ones.’

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