COVID-19 Tracing App Problems

The new virus tracing App software which is now on trial on the Isle of Wight  has already run into teething problems and the UK's NHSX technology innovation division is building a second smartphone app to track the spread of COVID-19.  

Concerns over the tracking App have grown after it emerged that the British government was already in talks with Apple and Google about using their jointly-developed tracing app as a backup, should the software developed by NHSX, fail to work well enough. 

The App being tested on the Isle of Wight's design means that the battery power of an iPhone can run out.

If the UK tests are successful, then the App will be made widely available to the general public in the coming weeks, enabling people to self-test whilst not being in the grip of a full lockdown. However, academics leading the NHSX development team have warned that 60% of the population will need to download it for it to work properly. 

Countries around the world are developing different Covid-19 smartphone Apps to limit the spread of coronavirus and relax lockdown restrictions. 

Some countries such as China, Singapore and South Korea have been using tracing Apps for a while now. In Europe, Germany has been testing a similar system, while in India it has been made compulsory for workers. It's hoped the information they gather can be used to alert people whether they pose a risk of spreading the contagion, and need to isolate.

South Korea, seen as one of the most successful countries at tackling Covid-19, has done it without a contact-tracing app. It has, however, used other surveillance methods which could be seen as invasive of privacy.

Over recent weeks, a split has emerged between two different types of App, the so-called centralised and decentralised versions. Both types use Bluetooth signals to log when smartphone owners are close to each other, so if someone develops Covid-19 symptoms, an alert can be sent to other users they may have infected. 

Under the centralised model, the anonymised data gathered is uploaded to a remote server where matches are made with other contacts, should a person start to develop Covid-19 symptoms. By contrast, the decentralised model gives users more control over their information by keeping it on the phone. It is there that matches are made with people who may have contracted the virus. This is the model promoted by Google and Apple in a consortium including medical experts.  

Apple have released a new screening tool and set of resources to help people stay informed and take the proper steps to protect their health during the spread of COVID-19, based on the latest Centre for Disease Control (CDC) guidance. 

The new COVID-19 App is available on the App Store, was created in partnership with the CDC, the White House Coronavirus Task Force and FEMA to make it easy for people across the country to get trusted information and guidance at a time when the US is feeling the heavy burden of COVID-19.

This new screening tool is designed to be a resource for individuals and does not replace instructions from healthcare providers or guidance from state and local health authorities.

The App and website also offer access to resources to help people stay informed and get the support they need. Users will receive answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19, including who is most at risk and how to recognise symptoms. In addition, they will learn the most up-to-date information from the CDC like best practices for washing hands, disinfecting surfaces and monitoring symptoms. 

The COVID-19 App and website were built to keep all user data private and secure. The tools do not require a sign-in or association with a user’s Apple ID, and users’ individual responses will not be sent to Apple or any government organisation.
Anyone in the US who is 18 years or older can access the screening tool and resources today by downloading the COVID-19 app.  

At the start, the centralised approach was seen pioneering. Singapore's TraceTogether was widely viewed as the one to emulate. But that changed after it emerged the App was only being used by about 20% of the local population, and there had been a resurgence of Covid-19 cases. 

Australia, another early adopter of the centralised approach, launched its CovidSafe App based on TraceTogether, whereas Germany surprised many when it confirmed it had become convinced decentralisation was the way to go. It had previously seemed set to go hand-in-hand with France using a decentralised concept.

It seems impossible to be sure whether a centralised or decentalised system will be more successful, but the list of nations flocking to use virus tracing Apps is growing. 
 

Apple:         BBC:         RTN:        Guardian

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