UK plans new app for COVID-19 contact tracing

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London: Britain is finalising plans for the rollout of a new National Health Service (NHS) mobile phone application that will warn people if they have recently been in close proximity to someone with Coronavirus symptoms. Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that the government’s team was working with leading technological companies to test the app before…

London: Britain is finalising plans for the rollout of a new National Health Service (NHS) mobile phone application that will warn people if they have recently been in close proximity to someone with Coronavirus symptoms.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that the government’s team was working with leading technological companies to test the app before its rollout over the coming months, an initiative seen as part of plans that would help ease the strict lockdown measures which entered their fourth week in the country on Monday.

“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,” Hancock said in reference to the new app.

“All data will be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards, and would only be used for NHS care and research, and we won’t hold it any longer than it’s needed. And as part of our commitment to transparency, we’ll be publishing the source code too,” he said.

The minister revealed that the app is in its testing phase, alongside experts in digital safety and ethics. NHSX, the UK health service’s digital innovation arm, is set to test a pre-release version of the software with people at a secure location in the north of England this week.

Tech giants Apple and Google announced on Friday that they were working on a software building block, known as an API, to make it easier for others to build contact tracing apps. NHSX plans to integrate the technology into its own product.

NHSX believes more than half the population going outside needs to be using it for automated contact tracing to be effective.

The system will reportedly keep track of handsets that come close to each other by recording when they detect Bluetooth signals on the respective devices.

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