UK Virus Tracking App Goes On Trial

Updated 6th May

A mobile phone App made for the British NHS health service aimed at limiting a second wave of coronavirus is being trialed on the Isle of Wight, an isolated community in the South of the country. It will be the first place in the UK where the new contact-tracing app will be used before being rolled out more widely.

Millions of people in the UK will soon be asked to track their movements to limit the spread of coronavirus and the government is hiring 18,000 people to trace the contacts of those infected, to help with the automation of tracking the spread of the virus. 

Using Bluetooth, the free smartphone app will track users when they come into contact with each other, automating the tracing process. If a user develops coronavirus symptoms, the disclosure will trigger an anonymous alert to users with whom they have recently had contact, enabling those people to go into quarantine and be tested. 

Likely Problems

The UK is one of the few countries that has decided to centralise its strategy for its contact tracing app, however security and IT experts have warned that the app will not work unless people have it running constantly, with their phone always switched on.  

An Oxford University Professor Christophe Fraser said that “lives would have been saved” if the government had begun contact tracing earlier. He also says that with the new app at least 60% of the Isle of White population will need to download the app for it to be effective.

There are also concerns that self-reporting symptoms might prove to be both unreliabe and possibly in breach of UK data protection laws, although the NHS says that any data collected will be anonymised and used soley for the purpose of health protection.

The App has raised concerns about the government and third parties being given access to people’s data, although its use will not be mandatory in Britain, unlike in China where the rate of infection has fallen dramatically.

Epidemiologists advising the NHS say that about 56% of the UK population, which is about 80% of smartphone owners need to use the app in order to suppress the virus, although the spread of the disease could still be slowed even if the take-up is lower than the target.  The NHS hope more than half of the 80,000 households on the Isle of Wight would download the app. A senior government Minster said "When it comes to contract tracing, the more people who download the app developed by the NHS the better... Knowing this is a contribution that all of us can make to helping to keep our communities and neighbours safe is a very powerful incentive." 

The app is understood to be only one among a number measures being taken to try to bring the virus under control as Britain attempts to slow the epidemic and move to ending the lockdown. 

The British parliamentary opposition Labour Party has criticised use of the App and claims there are shortcomings in the government's plan as not everybody has a smartphone and there are issues around privacy and security, not least the dependence upon  location services on their mobile devices which can be turned on and off at the users discretion.

What Is Contact Tracing?

Contact tracing is a method used to slow down the spread of infectious outbreaks. It is commonly used in sexual health clinics, when infected patients are told to contact anyone with whom they have been intimate with. In the coronavirus pandemic, it means tracking down anyone sufferers have been in prolonged contact with, to potentially ask them to self-isolate. This is often done through phone calls to the friends and family of coronavirus sufferers, complemented by an automated location tracking mobile app. 

Contact tracing has been credited with helping to lift restrictions in other countries, when combined with other measures.

Unlike contact tracing in sexual health clinics, it can be difficult to know who you've come into close enough contact with to spread coronavirus.Scientists don't entirely agree what "close contact" is and the World Health Organisation recommends staying one metre apart, while the UK government recommends two.

Mobile Health News:       BBC:       Sky:       BBC:      Spectator:    OrderOrder:     

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