How NHS coronavirus tracing app will work and when it’s available

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The government is trialling a new coronavirus tracking app as an important part of the plan to deal with the outbreak.

The NHS app uses a mobile phone’s Bluetooth connection to detect anyone else who has the app on their phone.

It detects if users come within two metres of another app user for a certain amount of time and records the data.

The app user will be alerted if one of the people they have come into significant contact with later reports having symptoms of coronavirus.

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The app will then advise what action to take, including telling people to self-isolate if necessary.

People will also be able to use the app to order a home testing kit to be delivered to where they live.

If the person you came into contact with tests negative, you'll get another alert saying it was a false alarm.

With the government’s relaxation of current lockdown measures expected to be announced later today, the app could potentially play a key part in reducing the transmission of the disease.

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The app is currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight, with all inhabitants of the island now free to download it after initially just being available to healthcare workers.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it will let the NHS “hunt down and isolate the virus so it is unable to reproduce”.

And that in turn should allow “a more targeted approach to lockdown” by keeping only essential restrictions while lifting others.

If the trial on the Isle of Wight is successful, the app could be rolled out nationwide by the middle of May, the Health Secretary said.

Although tracing apps have been an important tactic in limiting the spread of the disease in other countries that have adopted the technology, the app's use in the UK has proved controversial.

The app tracks people you have been in contact with and lets you report symptoms

Over 170 cyber security experts based at universities around the UK have signed a joint open letter to the government voicing their concerns the about privacy in relation to the app.

One of the major factors that would reduce the effectiveness of using tracing technology would be if people are put off from downloading it.

It's estimated that between 50 to 60% of the UK population will need to download the app for the tracing strategy to work, with some researchers saying 80%.

Labour leader, Kier Starmer raised his own concerns about not enough people downloading it for it to be a key strategy in the government's fight against coronavirus.

He told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I am a bit concerned that a similar app in Singapore only had, I think, something like a 20% take-up rate in the public."

He added that traditional methods of tracing, such as phoning people, would need to be used alongside the technology.

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To assist anyone who doesn't have access to the app, or a smartphone, the government said there will be an option to report symptoms in other ways.

The Department of Health and Social Care has said: "As the integrated service develops, everyone who reports symptoms, including app users, will also be asked to record recent contacts using an online service or through a telephone interview if they prefer so that contact tracers can reach all contacts who may be at risk, whether or not those contacts are app users.

"Contacts will then be alerted either by the app or by email or telephone, advising them to self-isolate or offering public health advice."

If the trial in the Isle of Wight proves successful, the Government have said that they expect the app to be available nationwide by mid-May.

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