COVID-19: UK is all set to deploy its new contact tracing app in fortnight’s time

As the countries across the globe search for ways to exit lockdown, health experts unanimously turn towards a decade-old public health technique – ‘contact tracing’ to stop the outbreak further. 

Do follow our special coverage on coronavirus over here.

Many tech companies including Google and Apple are pitching in ideas for contact tracing apps that can be installed in smartphones. Just like any other country, the UK is also trying to develop a coronavirus contact-tracing app that might help them emerge from lockdown.

Centralised database!

According to NHSX CEO, Matthew Gould, the future version of the app could ask users to share location data to help epidemiologists learn more. Furthermore, he also revealed that the app will log the location, whenever more than two people are in close proximity. 

Furthermore, the app would be technically ready for roll out in another two or three weeks. In the Science and Technology Committee, Matthew Gould said: “If you want to protect the NHS and stop it being overwhelmed and, at the same time, want to get the economy moving, then the app is going to be part of an essential part of a strategy for doing that,” 

Uses Bluetooth Low Energy!

The app will be part of a wider approach that will involve contact tracing and testing. Notably, the technology is based on research evidence developed by epidemiologists, mathematical modellers, and ethicists at Oxford University’s Nuffield Departments of Medicine and Population Health. 

Once the app is installed, it will start logging the distance between your phone and other phones nearby that also have the app installed using Bluetooth Low Energy.

This anonymous log of how close you are to others will be stored securely on your phone. If you become unwell with symptoms of COVID-19, you can choose to allow the app to inform the NHS which, subject to sophisticated risk analysis, will trigger an anonymous alert to those other app users with whom you came into significant contact over the previous few days.  

Rejected Apple-Google plan!

A few days back, NHS rejected Apple-Google coronavirus app plan due to the “decentralised” approach, as opposed to UK’s “centralised” model.  According to professor Christophe Fraser, the centralised approach will give epidemiologists the visibility they need and the means to calibrate it further. It’s worth mentioning that both Gould and Fraser emphasised the collected data would remain anonymous. 

Privacy concerns? 

On the other hand, professor Lilian Edwards, a leading expert on privacy law said that building a centralised database is an intrinsic risk where data might be retained beyond the pandemic. 

However, this doesn’t end here as nearly 175 UK academics have recently criticised NHS’s app plan with a centralised database. 

The letter said:

“We hold that the usual data protection principles should apply: collect the minimum data necessary to achieve the objective of the application. We hold it is vital that if you are to build the necessary trust in the application the level of data being collected is justified publicly by the public health teams demonstrating why this is truly necessary rather than simply the easiest way, or a “nice to have”, given the dangers involved and invasive nature of the technology.”

Main image credits: No-Mad/Shutterstock

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