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NHS launches new COVID-19 app across England and Wales

‘Protect your loved ones. Get the app’

A new app to help control the spread of COVID-19 has been launched by the National Health Service (NHS) across England and Wales today.

The NHS COVID-19 app will also allow for national and local contact tracing.

Features of the app include contact tracing using Bluetooth, risk alerts based on postcode district, QR check-in at venues, symptom checker and test booking – with user privacy and data security at its heart, according to a government news release on Wednesday.

As of today, businesses must display official NHS QR code posters so that people can check-in at different premises with the app.

“We are at a tipping point in our efforts to control the spread of this virus. With infection rates rising we must use every tool at our disposal to prevent transmission, including the latest technology,” UK government Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock.

HANCOCK… the app is secure, simple to use and will help keep our country safe

“We have worked extensively with tech companies, international partners, and privacy and medical experts – and learned from the trials – to develop an app that is secure, simple to use and will help keep our country safe,” he said.

Meanwhile, the government is urging people across England and Wales to download the NHS COVID-19 app so as to help control the spread of the coronavirus and protect themselves and their loved ones as case numbers rise.

“Today’s launch marks an important step forward in our fight against this invisible killer and I urge everyone who can to download and use the app to protect themselves and their loved ones.,” Hancock said.

The government says the app went through positive trials and rigorous testing and is an important new tool to work alongside traditional contact tracing to help reduce the spread of the virus.

The app is available to those aged 16 and in multiple languages. It forms a central part of the NHS Test and Trace service in England and the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect programme – identifying contacts of those who have tested positive for coronavirus.

Users of the app’s QR code can check into venues such as bars and restaurants without filling in any forms. They can also check their symptoms to find out whether they could have the coronavirus and order a free test if needed.

And for those who are isolating, the app will count down the days and provide the user with needed information.

The app will tell you the risk level of your post code area. A medium risk level, for example, would mean that the area has high or rising levels of infection. A high risk level means that your area may be facing lockdown or other additional measures, to reduce high levels of infection.

As part of a major campaign to encourage downloads of the app a new advertisement will launch on primetime TV tonight with the strapline ‘Protect your loved ones. Get the app.’

The UK’s major mobile network operators, including Vodafone, Three, EE and O2, Sky and Virgin, have confirmed that all in-app activity will not come out of customers’ data allowance, the release states.

The contact tracing element of the app works by using low-energy Bluetooth to log the amount of time you spend near other app users, and the distance between you, so it can alert you if someone you have been close to later tests positive for COVID-19 – even if you don’t know each other.

What’s the danger level in your area?

The app will advise you to self-isolate if you have been in close contact with a confirmed case. It will also enable you to check symptoms, book a free test if needed and get your test results.

The app has been designed with user privacy in mind, according to the Department of Health and Social Care, so it tracks the virus, not people and uses the latest in data security technology to protect privacy.

The system generates a random ID for an individual’s device, which can be exchanged between devices via Bluetooth (not GPS). These unique random IDs regenerate frequently to add an extra layer of security and preserve anonymity.

The NHS Test and Trace team behind the app has worked closely with major tech companies, including Google and Apple, scientists within the Alan Turing Institute and Oxford University, Zuhlke Engineering, medical experts, privacy groups, at-risk communities and teams in countries across the world using similar apps – such as Germany, to develop an app that is safe, simple and secure.

The app has been through successful trials in the Isle of Wight, Newham and among NHS volunteer responders according to the release. Lessons learned have informed the final version.

Those who may not have access to the app, or the ability to use a smartphone should continue to use traditional contact tracing services provided by NHS Test and Trace or, NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect.

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