People across England and Wales are today downloading the new NHS contact tracing app onto their phones.
The smartphone app monitors your contacts and will alert you if you have been exposed to the virus by coming into contact with an infected person.
Boris Johnson first promised the app as part of his “world beating” testing system, but its rollout has been plagued by delays and technical problems.
The first version was ditched when it emerged it did not work on the majority of iPhones, reports Mirror Online.
The new version – which has been trialled on the Isle of Wight and in the London borough of Newham – has new features, from QR scanners for pubs to a pulsing “heartbeat” that’ll count down your isolation time.
It should alert you if you have been standing less than two metres away from someone for at least 15 minutes who went on to test positive. It also take into account how infectious the original confirmed case was likely to be when you came in to contact with them.
It does this by factoring in how many days it was since they first reported symptoms.
The app uses an Apple and Google-developed system, using Bluetooth to keep an anonymous log of other mobile phones using the app which it has been close to.
The app will use Bluetooth to track every other app user who comes into “significant contact” with you.
‘Significant contact’ mostly means being less than two metres from someone for at least 15 minutes.
It should run in the background, and you’ll know if it’s on, because there’ll be a pulsing green ‘heartbeat’ when you open the app which says ‘contact tracing active’.
If you test positive for coronavirus, the app will ping you code to a central server and then to all app users in search of a match.
Alerts will tell users that they have spent time near someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, and that they will have to stay at home for 14 days.
Yes – using a separate parallel process to pass on your personal details to human contact tracers who should then get in touch.
The app will tell you to go into self-isolation and you can use it to book the test.
When the results come, you’ll be notified in the app, as well as in an e-mail or text message as you are now.
A big part of the app is recording symptoms – either a persistent cough, fever or loss of taste or smell.
The app also has a self-isolation countdown clock, which keeps you updated on how long before you can leave home again.
But you’ll be able to say the date your symptoms started, and your self-isolation time will drop accordingly. For instance if your symptoms started 2 days ago, the app will say you have 8 days of self-isolation left.
If you are self-isolating because you tested positive for coronavirus, the app will use the day you first had symptoms to calculate how long you need to self-isolate.
The app does not ask for access to the phone’s contact book or location but you have to give the first part of your postcode.
You will then get alerts if your area is deemed “high risk” for coronavirus, meaning you don’t have to rely on the news alone to track a local outbreak.
People will be asked to “download the app and use it daily”, as well as “keep the app ‘on’ and carry their phone at all times” to ensure contact tracing works.
But the app contains what is essentially a “pause” button to stop false alarms for people who work behind a perspex screen, wear PPE, or put their phone in a locker.
This system will work on trust. It appears there’s nothing to stop app users turning off contact-tracing and going to a party – other than it being morally wrong and potentially dangerous, of course.
A big part of the app will be a ‘check-in’ scanner for people to easily log their details with pubs, restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels and more.
Workplaces, leisure facilities and “anywhere else where groups of people are likely to gather” will also be urged to take part.
You’ll wave a scanner in the app over a printed QR code at the venue, and it will log your arrival time. You can then wave the scanner over the QR code again to check out.
This will stop data being left in insecure places, like written-down pub guest books where it could be abused.
If you go to ‘manage my data’ in the app, you’ll be able to find a 21 day history of where you’ve been.
You’ll also get an alert if the place you visited is deemed “at risk”, in other words if it has an outbreak.
QR codes that are scanned by the user when visiting venues are automatically deleted after 21 days. This is to take into account the 14-day incubation period, and 7-day infectious period of the virus.
NHS Test and Trace is working on modelling assumptions that at least 15% of the population need to download and use the app for it to have a “meaningful impact” on controlling the R rate.
Those behind the app insist the percentage of users who were more than two metres from a confirmed case but are told to self-isolate has been reduced during trials.
Coronavirus, United Kingdom National Health Service
World news – GB – How to download the new NHS contact tracing app and how it works