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Covid-19: Contact tracing app rolls out to public in Isle of Wight trial


By Awil Mohamoud and Isabel Shaw
Reporter
7 May 2020

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A new mobile app designed to digitally ‘track and trace’ the spread of coronavirus has today rolled out to the public in the Isle of Wight.

The NHS Covid-19 tracing app, which launched to NHS and council staff on the island earlier this week, ‘could significantly speed up contact tracing’ and ‘help reduce the chance of the virus spreading’, the developer, NHSX, has said.

The programme will be rolled out nationally mid-May in a bid to assist easing of current lockdown restrictions, while also aiming to contain the spread of the disease, the Government has said.

Similar contact tracing strategies are being adopted around the world to help pinpoint those who need to self-isolate and to keep social distancing measures to a minimum.

Three-quarters of Isle of Wight residents said they would download the app, in a poll by local paper Island Echo . Some have expressed concerns about data privacy, despite assurance from NHSX that the app has ‘been designed with privacy in mind’.

How the app works

The NHS Covid-19 tracing app will be used alongside enhanced contact tracing services and swab testing for those showing Covid-19 symptoms to follow the spread and minimise contagion.

When a user reports symptoms of Covid-19 through the application, the app will then trace every app user that person has come into close contact with over the days prior to reporting symptoms.

The app will then alert the people the suspected carrier has come into contact with and offer advice, including how to isolate and how they can get a test to confirm whether they have the virus.

Users will be able to order a test through the app.

Those not able to access the app, including those without a smartphone, will be able to report their symptoms and order tests in other ways.

As the app is still being developed, users who report symptoms will be asked to manually record recent contacts by using an online service or over the phone. This is so that everyone can be reached, including those who do not yet have the app.

‘Ground-breaking technology’

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock spoke of the ‘vital role’ the tracing app could play ‘in getting Britain back on her feet’.

‘The Isle of Wight is playing a vital role with this pioneering work to help keep Britain safe. This will pave the way for a nationwide roll-out when the time is right,’ he said.

‘This ground-breaking technology, combined with our heroic frontline health and social care staff, and both a nationwide contact tracing testing programme will ensure that we remain in the best position to move toward easing the lockdown.’

Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van Tam, commented: ‘By widespread testing those suspected to be infected with coronavirus, tracing their contacts and where appropriate advising them to self-isolate, we can slow the onward spread of the virus.

‘This new app-based system, developed by technology experts in partnership with clinicians and scientists, will run alongside traditional contact tracing by PHE. If uptake and use is widespread it will give us the greatest room for manoeuvre to ease other social distancing measures.’

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