What’s the latest on the Covid track and trace app?

person using NHS track and trace app
When operating, the app will hopefully be a useful tool in controlling the spread of the virus (Picture: PA)


As the coronavirus pandemic continues – with the grim milestone of over 500,000 global deaths reached – the UK continues to look ahead, moving into a new phase allowing two households to meet indoors and the reopening of pubs.

To keep the momentum of safely moving forward going, contract tracing has long been part of the Government’s wider plans to ease lockdown and bring the nation safely back to normal.

However, getting an app up and running hasn’t been as straightforward as previously hoped, with delays, failed security tests and other hurdles.

Where are we with the Track and Trace app now and will it launch soon?

The official Gov.uk page for the NHS coronavirus app still states that the app is in development and being trialled on the Isle of Wight.

After many weeks of development, the Government admitted flaws in the first design, and they were switching to an Apple-Google model for the next version.

Technical issues with Bluetooth delayed the app, while it was discovered the app was only logging one in 25 contacts between people when it was used on iPhones.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, admitted that the Government can’t say when the tracing app will be ready.

He said: ‘We knew from the start that we would need to test and learn as we developed this new technology.’

While the app is delayed, the UK has been using a manual system, with dedicated teams calling people who have coronavirus symptoms to track the spread of Covid-19 and ask them to self-isolate.

Contact-tracing apps will let users who download it to voluntarily record details of their symptoms when they start to feel unwell.

The app keeps a trace of others who have been in close contact through Bluetooth signals that transmit a unique ID.

These signals perform a digital ‘handshake’ when two users come into close contact.

If someone reports that they have coronavirus, it will then push a message to people who have been in close contact with them in the last 28 days based on their unique IDs.

The app will recommend those people self-isolate in case they have contracted the disease.

Those contacted won’t know the identity of the person who may have passed on coronavirus.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, many have warned against scammers trying to exploit the opportunity.

More recently scam artists pretending to be NHS contact tracers for the Test and Trace system were reported to have been demanding £500 for Covid-19 test kits and results.

There are detailed steps to help spot a scam, but the main things to remember are who is contacting you and what details they’re asking for.

As per the advice on the official Gov.uk page, the only way you will be contacted legitimately is by:

  • A phone call from 0300 013 5000
  • Text messages from ‘NHS’

Legitimate contact tracers will ask:

  • for your full name and date of birth to confirm your identity, and postcode to offer support while self-isolating
  • if you are experiencing any coronavirus symptoms

Contact tracers will never:

  • ask you to dial a premium rate number (for example, those starting 09 or 087)
  • ask you to make any form of payment or purchase a product of any kind
  • ask for any details about your bank account
  • ask for your social media identities or login details, or those of your contacts
  • ask you for any passwords or PINs, or ask you to set up any passwords or PINs over the phone
  • disclose any of your personal or medical information to your contacts
  • provide medical advice on the treatment of any potential coronavirus symptoms
  • ask you to download any software to your PC or ask you to hand over control of your PC, smartphone or tablet to anyone else
  • ask you to access any website that does not belong to the government or NHS

Panorama is on BBC One tonight at 8.30pm.

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