UK’s new contact-tracing app heads to Isle of Wight for fresh trials
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The trial of a new coronavirus contact tracing app for England is launching today on the Isle of Wight - location of the previous app test - with further rollout to the London borough of Newham planned for the near future.
The Government had previously developed another app with the same purpose that was ditched due to technical problems encountered when it was installed on iPhones.
Development then switched to the new app that uses a Bluetooth-based system, developed collaboratively by Google and Apple.
At the end of July, Northern Ireland launched its own contact-tracing app - also based on the Google-Apple solution - which caused some minor battery life issues on certain Android phones.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said Isle of Wight residents will be the first to test the app, alongside NHS volunteer responders across England.
It will let people scan barcode-like QR codes to log venue visits, as well as implementing Apple and Google’s Bluetooth-enabled method of detecting other smartphones nearby. The app also features alerts based on postcode, letting users know the level of coronavirus risk in their district. If a user is told to self-isolate, a timer feature will help count down the quarantine period.
Despite initial hype, officials have warned that contact-tracing apps are not a “silver bullet” for coronavirus, but could help support the overall NHS Test and Trace effort.
“We’ve worked with tech companies, international partners, privacy and medical experts to develop an app that is simple to use, secure and will help keep the country safe,” health minister Matt Hancock said.
“Building on the feedback from the first phase, I want to thank Isle of Wight residents who will again play a vital national role in fighting this pandemic, joined by residents in Newham, London, and our incredible NHS volunteer responders.
“We are hugely grateful to everyone playing their part to rigorously test the new app and provide the foundation for a national rollout.”
On Monday, the Government said the broader tracing scheme, which is said to be essential for a full reopening of the economy, would become more locally targeted and reduce the number of national-level contact tracers.
Despite the delays and problems with the test-and-trace system, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously described it as “world beating”, while other government officials have gradually changed the tone of their messaging to play down the centrality of the app, saying it is merely the “cherry on the cake” of the whole programme.
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