UK confirms plans for coronavirus tracking app

4/13/2020

The government is working with Google and Apple to release an NHS app that alerts users when they have come into close contact with any virus carriers.

Health secretary Matt Hancock announced at the government's daily press briefing on Sunday that the NHS is "working closely with the world's leading tech companies" on this software to combat the spread of the virus. The app would use Bluetooth technology to track users and help to prioritise testing for those who have come in contact with carriers of the virus.

The app will enable all those self-diagnosing with COVID-19 and isolating at home to declare their status as positive, as well as input their own symptoms. Matt Hancock continued, "If you become unwell with the symptoms of coronavirus, you can securely tell this new NHS app and the app will then send an alert anonymously to other app users that you’ve been in significant contact with over the past few days, even before you had symptoms so that they know and can act accordingly."

Experts believe the development of an app could help slow the spread of coronavirus and enable people to resume normal life sooner than hoped. The app also provides an alternative to traditional public health contact tracing methods, which are too slow to keep up with the virus. Professor Christophe Fraser, of Oxford University’s Big Data Institute, said, “Our analysis suggests that almost half of coronavirus transmissions occur in the very early phase of infection, before symptoms appear, so we need a fast and effective mobile app for alerting people who have been exposed."

NHSX - the health service's technology unit - is aiming to run a pilot at a secure location in the North of England over the next few days. Matt Hancock is reportedly considering how to incentivise people to use the app as experts claim it will only prove beneficial if over 60% of people install it.

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