The ability for the NHS Covid-19 App to work across UK borders has been a clear priority for us post launch of the app on 24 September. Following close working between England and Wales and colleagues in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Jersey and Gibraltar, the NHS Covid-19 app has been updated to ensure it is now compatible with contact tracing apps across these countries. This is the latest in a series of updates since the app launched, as we strive to prevent the spread of coronavirus and keep our loved ones safe.
From today (5 Nov) the NHS Covid-19 App will send an alert if it detects that you have been in ‘close contact’ with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus and is using the Protect Scotland, StopCovid NI, Jersey COVID alert or Beat COVID Gibraltar apps. While the majority of us will not be travelling under the current restrictions, this update will provide protection for those who have to continue to travel to other areas of the UK for essential reasons, such as work. Crucially it will provide wider benefits to all app users when restrictions are eased. Undoubtedly, this is an important step forward in our UK-wide pandemic response, ensuring that no matter which contact tracing app you are using across the UK, Jersey or Gibraltar, you will be notified if you are at risk of having caught the virus. It is important to note that this update does not compromise our commitment to privacy, and the nature of the app remains private by design.
The contact tracing element of the NHS Covid-19 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. The app 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.
After entering a positive test result, NHS Covid-19 app users are asked if they wish to share their random, unique IDs. If a user consents, these ‘keys’ will now be shared with other contact tracing apps, as well as NHS Covid-19 users. This use of secure keys means that at all times personal data continues to be held on the users device, it does not leave it, and therefore no personal data is shared with outside agencies such as the government or police.
I am delighted that over 19 million adults across England and Wales have downloaded the app, which is an important part of cutting transmission rates and is helping to keep our communities and loved ones safe by breaking the chains of transmission. We also have an app that is rated ‘excellent’ by international standards, advising you to self-isolate if you have been in close contact with a confirmed case and enabling you to check symptoms, book a free test if needed and get your test results. But our work does not stop here and we will update the app further with new functionality that continues to place the user and public health outcomes at the heart of this important tool.
We all have a vital part to play in preventing the spread of coronavirus, including isolating when notified to do so, and I would encourage all those who have not yet done so to download the app, to stop the spread of the virus and save lives.