The UK has begun the initial stage of rolling out its app to help track and trace the spread of coronavirus.
Starting on Monday evening, National Health Service (NHS) staff living on the Isle of Wight will be able to download the new app ahead of the rest of the islanders later this week.
It marks the start of a pilot test, which UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was “grateful” to be introducing to “huge enthusiasm” from participants who know they’re at the “forefront of helping Britain get back on her feet”.
What does the app do?
Once downloaded, you will be able to alert the NHS via the app if you begin to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19.
The app will have logged the distance between your phone and other users and will send an anonymous alert to anyone else you have been in close contact with in the last few days.
Advice on what to do next – whether that is self-isolating or something else – will also be sent along with the alert.
It will also run using Low Bluetooth Energy in order to conserve battery life as much as possible while in use.
When can I download it?
The app is currently in its pilot phase of testing, and will only be available to those living on the Isle of Wight.
NHS workers living on the island will be able to download the app from this evening, while the government is planning on sending out letters to all 80,000 households this week ahead of an island-wide roll out on Thursday.
Speaking on Monday afternoon, Hancock said the island was picked to run the pilot as it has one NHS trust, one local authority with responsibility for public health and a “relatively low” number of COVID-19 cases.
He added: “And because it’s an island, we can run this trial in properly controlled scientific conditions, comparing the effect with what’s going on on the mainland before we roll it out to the rest of the country.”
Does this mean lockdown is over on the Isle of Wight?
No. Matt Hancock stressed in Monday’s daily press conference from Downing Street that stay-at-home guidelines must continue to be followed even after the release of the app.
Does the app violate my privacy?
According to Hancock, the app takes “full consideration of security and privacy”, and the location tracking is anonymous.
A press release from the NHS said the “anonymous log” of locations and proximity would be stored “securely on your phone”.
It added that future releases of app may allow people to provide extra information about themselves, should they wish to, which could help identify “hotspots and trends” of the virus.
But, the NHS assued that data would only be used for “care, management, evaluation and research”, and the app could be deleted at any time, along with all the data collected.
“We will always comply with the law around the use of your data, including the Data Protection Act and will explain how we intend to use it.
“We will be totally open and transparent about your choices in the app and what they mean. If we make any changes to how the app works over time, we will explain in plain English why those changes were made and what they mean for you.
“Your privacy is crucial to the NHS, and so while these are unusual times, we are acutely aware of our obligations to you. Just as the NHS strives at all times to keep your health records confidential, so it will keep the app data secure.
“Patient confidentiality is built in to the NHS. It is one of our key values.”
Have any other countries tried a similar approach?
Yes — there are lots of countries around the world that have created, or are in the process of creating apps to help track and trace the spread of the virus.
While there have been repeated concerns about privacy issues when tracking the location of a mobile phone, places such as Singapore and South Korea have deployed technological ways to help communities control the virus.
France and Germany are also on the cusp of releasing similar apps, too.