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England and Wales COVID-19 contact tracing app launches

The NHS COVID-19 contact tracing logo on a yellow, blue, and green background

The COVID-19 contact tracing app has finally launched in England and Wales. The new app is based on the Google and Apple API which is decentralised and offers a high degree of privacy that doesn’t require users to register an account.

To use the app, you must be using a device running Android 6.0+ or iOS 13.5+ that supports Bluetooth 4.0+. Additionally, you must be aged 16 or over to use the app – this has been reduced from 18+ which was the age requirement during the trials.

The new app comes with several features, immediately when you begin using it you’re asked to provide the first half of your postcode, this will tell you how high the COVID-19 risk is in your area and provides you with advice based on this. In the background, the app will use Bluetooth to keep a log of all the other devices it comes into contact with and if any of their owners report a positive COVID-19 test, you’ll be asked to isolate for a week.

In addition to Bluetooth logs, the app allows you to check-in at venues. Businesses will display QR codes that you can scan, if there are reported cases at the venue at the time you were there you’ll be notified. It's important to note that you only have to check-in, the system will automatically check you out after a certain period.

Other features in the app include a symptom checker, a link to read the latest government advice, and a section to enter your COVID-19 test result. If you enter a positive result, people who you’ve come into contact with will be notified to isolate but your identity will remain private.

According to BBC News, users that ignore the app’s self-isolation warning are in theory liable to be fined. However, because the app is anonymous, the fines will be impossible to enforce should you choose to ignore them. If you feel you cannot afford to self-isolate, be sure to check the government website for any financial assistance you may be able to claim.

People living in England and Wales ought to feel reassured about their privacy. In the first iteration of the app, the government was using a centralised model that offered less privacy. This was eventually dropped due to technical limitations. The only personal information that users will enter into the new app is the first half of their postcode.

You can download the app from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store now.

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