The NHS COVID-19 app has been launched today across England and Wales to help control the spread of coronavirus.
People are being urged to download the new app, which forms a central part of the NHS Test and Trace service in England and the NHS Wales Test, Trace and Protect programme – identifying contacts of those who have tested positive for coronavirus.
The contact tracing element of the app works by using low-energy Bluetooth to log the amount of time people spend near other app users, and the distance between them, so it can alert them if someone they have been close to later tests positive for COVID-19.
The app will advise people to self-isolate if they have been in close contact with a confirmed case. It will also enable the user to check symptoms, book a free test if needed and get test results.
Announcing the launch, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We are at a tipping point in our efforts to control the spread of this virus. 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.”
The app is designed with user privacy in mind, so it tracks the virus not people. The system generates a random ID for an individual’s device, which can be exchanged between devices via Bluetooth, rather than GPS. These random IDs regenerate frequently to add an extra layer of security and preserve anonymity.
It does not hold personal information such as the user’s name, address or date of birth, and only requires the first half of a person’s postcode to ensure local outbreaks can be managed.
The NHS Test and Trace team behind the app has worked with major tech companies, including Google and Apple, scientists within the Alan Turing Institute and Oxford University, Zuhlke Engineering, medical experts, privacy groups, at-risk communities and teams in countries across the world using similar apps – such as Germany, to develop the app.
The app has been through trials in the Isle of Wight, Newham and among NHS Volunteer Responders and lessons learned have informed the final version that is launching today.
Simon Thompson, managing director of the NHS COVID-19 App, said: “We have worked tirelessly to develop the new NHS COVID-19 app and we are incredibly grateful to all residents of the Isle of Wight, London Borough of Newham, and NHS Volunteer Responders – the learnings and insight have made the app what it is today. We are now ready to roll-out the app across England and Wales.
“This 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.
“We are confident that every person who downloads the app will be helping to protect themselves and their loved ones.”