U.K. begins trialling decentralised COVID contact tracing app [Update]

The NHS contact tracing app logo on a green, blue, and yellow background

Two months ago, the U.K. decided to ditch its coronavirus contact tracing app that it had stubbornly refused to re-assess despite using a centralised contract tracing system that was deemed to be less effective than the Google and Apple-based decentralised method. In the two month period, the government has prepared a new app which will begin trials tomorrow.

According to the BBC, the new app uses Apple's and Google’s APIs to offer a privacy-oriented solution that uses Bluetooth to detect when users get close to each other. To make the software more effective, businesses will be able to put up a QR code sign which users can scan upon entering; if the premises later get linked to infections, you’ll get a notification so you can order a test for yourself.

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Christophe Fraser, a scientific advisor to the Department of Health, said:

“We need the app to help stop transmission by tracing close-proximity contacts as quickly and as comprehensively as possible, capturing those contacts we don't know or don't remember meeting. The app should enable us to return to more normal daily activities with the reassurance that our contacts can be rapidly and anonymously notified if we get infected.”

The new app will be tested on the Isle of Wight, the London borough of Newham, and among NHS Volunteer Responders across England. The BBC said that this trial will be done quietly because it’s not sure when it will be releasing the finished product.

When the app does launch, it will likely be heavily advertised by the government but could meet some resistance from the public. Since the pandemic began, several 5G masts have been subject to arson attacks and the government has had to introduce rules to get most people wearing a mask when they go shopping. According to experts, more than half of the population would need to download the contact tracing app for it to be effective.

Update: The article has been updated with app trial locations and a video demonstrating the new contact tracing app.

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