Covid-19: NHS contact-tracing app to be trialled on the Isle of Wight
An NHS contact-tracing app is being trialled on the Isle of Wight, with council and healthcare workers among the first to use it.
The wider Isle of Wight population will be able to download the app from Thursday from Apple and Google app stores. If it trials successfully, it could be rolled out nationwide by mid-May, according to health secretary Matt Hancock.
The app functions through Bluetooth connection and records when two users of the app are within a certain distance of each other for a certain amount of time. Should one of those people later report symptoms, all the app users that they encountered will be alerted and potentially instructed to self-isolate if required.
This form of tracking will form an integral part of the government’s exit strategy from the ongoing lockdown.
Hancock called on inhabitants of the Isle of Wight to download the app as soon as it becomes available. The health secretary also stressed that social distancing rules will remain in force during the trial period.
He said: "By downloading the app, you are protecting your own health, you are protecting the health of your loved ones and the health of your community.
"Where the Isle of Wight goes, Britain follows."
The app has raised some privacy concerns, given that it has been designed with a central computer which determines which phones have matched and should receive alerts.
On the other hand, Apple and Google tend to use a more decentralised model where matches occur through individual users’ handsets.
Hancock said that the app was "designed with privacy and security front of mind" and any data stored will only go to the NHS when the app determines that a user needs to be tested.
The Information Commissioner’s Office, which regulates UK data privacy, said that a decentralised approach would be more in line with its principle of keeping the minimum amount of personal data on record. Yet, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham stressed that a centralised app system could still benefit from the same privacy and security as a decentralised one.
NHSX, which developed the app, has said that the only personal data the app will store is the first part of users' postcodes. Users will have to opt-in for further location data to be logged and use of the app at all will be entirely voluntary.
NHSX chief executive Matthew Gould said: "The app is designed so you don't have to give it your personal details to use it - it does ask for the first half of your postcode but only that.
"You can use it without giving any other personal details at all - it doesn't know who you are, it doesn't know who you've been near, it doesn't know where you've been."
The number of UK deaths linked to coronavirus has reached 28,734, after increasing by 288 on Monday, the lowest daily increase since the end of March.