ENGLAND AND WALES have launched a Covid-19 app — available in south Asian languages such as Gujarati, Urdu, Punjabi and Bangla — that allows users to trace contacts, check local risk levels, record visits to venues such as pubs, and book virus tests.
The NHS app comes as Britain braces for a second wave of infections, with daily cases numbers rising at rates not seen since the peak of the pandemic and a testing system unable to cope with demand in many areas.
The government had claimed a Covid-19 app would arrive in May, but early trials were dogged by problems, and developers abandoned home-grown technology in favour of Apple and Google’s model in June.
“We are at a tipping point in our efforts to control the spread of this virus,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Thursday (24). “With infection rates rising we must use every tool at our disposal to prevent transmission, including the latest technology.
“We have worked extensively with tech companies, international partners, and privacy and medical experts – and learned from the trials – to develop an app that is secure, simple to use and will help keep our country safe.
“Today’s launch marks an important step forward in our fight against this invisible killer and I urge everyone who can to download and use the app to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
Simon Thompson, managing director of the NHS COVID-19 App, said the “new version is so much more than just a contact tracing app – it has a range of features which will quickly alert you if you’re at risk of coronavirus”.
“The more people who use it, the better it works,” he added.
The app uses Bluetooth signals to log when a user is in close contact with another user, generally meaning within two metres for 15 minutes or more.
If someone then tests positive for Covid-19, they can choose to share the result anonymously with their close contacts, who will each receive an alert and will have to isolate for 14 days.
The app generates a random ID for each user to protect privacy, and matches cases on the device rather than on a central server, as was the case in the first iteration.
“The app does not hold personal information such as your name, address or date of birth, and only requires the first half of your postcode to ensure local outbreaks can be managed,” said a health department spokesperson. “No personal data is shared with the government or the NHS.”
Apple and Google said in a joint statement that the “exposure notifications system” was developed “while ensuring people can trust in the privacy-preserving design”.
Notably, the app will also enable users to book a Covid-19 test subject to availability, check symptoms, and register at venues using a QR-type bar code displayed by businesses.
Major mobile network operators, including Vodafone, Three, EE and O2, Sky and Virgin, confirmed that all in-app activity “will not come out of customers’ data allowance”.
As the app was being tested in Newham over last month, the borough’s mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, had highlighted that the app was “easy to use” and came in different languages, making it more effective among ethnic minorities.
People aged over 16 will be encouraged to download the app by advertisements with the strapline: “Protect your loved ones. Get the app.”