contact tracing app coronavirus

Users of NHS Covid-19 app report phantom notifications

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Users of the NHS Covid-19 contact-tracing app have reported receiving fleeting notifications informing them that they may have come into contact with someone who is infected, before the message quickly vanishes.

The app’s erratic behaviour, which is not intended, has been blamed on the underlying system developed by Google and Apple. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is working on a fix.

Users of the app reported receiving notifications that would reveal the potential exposure date, duration and signal strength of their encounter with a person infected with Covid-19, but clicking on the notification did nothing.

This issue is yet another chapter in the troubled history of the UK's contact-tracing app. It was first expected to launch in May, before work on the project was entirely restarted.

Finally launching at the end of September, it has only attracted modest engagement from the public so far, falling some way short of the target of 60 per cent of the population which studies have suggested is required for it to be properly effective.

The DHSC has said that the only notifications that matter will appear on the app itself and that users should not worry if they receive one of these “phantom” notifications. An update for the app is in development, but it could take weeks before this can be rolled out to users.

The app also allows people to scan codes on posters before entering venues such as pubs and restaurants, allowing NHS Test and Trace to send an alert to anyone who has visited an establishment that experiences an outbreak of Covid-19 cases.

Although 1.5 million venue check-ins were recorded on the first Saturday after the app launched, Sky News has reported that only one alert has been sent about a coronavirus outbreak in a venue.

Given that it became a legal requirement for certain venues in England to display QR code posters on 24 September, DHSC said it would not yet expect to see large numbers of alerts having been sent out linked to outbreaks. It is not compulsory for businesses to display QR code posters in Wales.

“The NHS Covid-App is an important public health tool, downloaded more than 16 million times, which is helping to stop the spread of this virus,” a DHSC spokesman said.

“Alongside the app’s contact-tracing features, the QR code check-in system performs a number of important functions, not least providing a digital diary for users to prompt them as to who they have been with should they test positive.

“If health protection teams believe a venue is linked to an outbreak, they may send a ‘warn and inform’ message to app users who attended the venue at a similar time based on when they checked in.”

The news comes as pubs and restaurants in northern England cities face the prospect of having to temporarily close again to combat the spread of the virus.

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