NHS Covid-19 app: From QR codes to getting a test – the new track and trace app explained

A new Covid-19 contact-tracing app launches across England and Wales today, September 24.

The app lets people scan barcode-like QR codes to register visits to hospitality venues and will use Apple and Google’s method of detecting other smartphones.

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 The NHS Covid-19 app is available to download now


The NHS Covid-19 app is available to download nowCredit: London News Pictures

What is the NHS contact tracing app?

The app was first trialled in the Isle of Wight and the east London borough of Newham.

The app was redeveloped entirely over the summer to adopt a framework created by Apple and Google, after an initial attempt to build an independent one failed to deliver on iPhones.

A spokesperson from DHSC said that checking in with the app will meet the legal requirements – but pubs and restaurants will still need to operate two systems to catch people without phones.

How does it work?

The new app tells people whether they have been close to someone who has had coronavirus and send out alerts advising them to self-isolate.

The app adopts a Bluetooth system designed by Apple and Google – and already used in several countries, including Germany, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland – to make an anonymous log of phones that have been close to each other.

Unlike the first app, this contact-tracing app will also include other features designed to give users “personal benefits” including a countdown timer for people who are self-isolating and alerts about the local level of the virus.

When will the app be available?

The NHS coronavirus contact-tracing app for England and Wales launches today, September 24.

The newest version of the app is being launched after the first attempt was abandoned in June because it did not work on Android smartphones.

What should I do if I think I have Covid-19?

The new system works in two parts – the first is for someone who tests positive for Covid-19 and the second is for their contacts.

Anyone with a new, continuous cough, a high temperature or a change in their sense of smell or taste, should:

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1. Self-isolate

As soon as you experience coronavirus symptoms, you should self-isolate for at least seven days.

Anyone else in your household should self-isolate for 14 days from when you started having symptoms.

2. Get tested

Order a coronavirus test immediately so you can confirm whether or not you’ve been infected.

A test can be ordered online directly from the Coronavirus page of the NHS website.

For those that don’t have internet access, a new number has been set up – call 119 if you need a test.

3. Results

If your test is positive you must complete the remainder of your seven-day self-isolation.

Anyone in your household should also complete self-isolation for 14 days from when you started having symptoms.

If your test is negative, you and other household members no longer need to isolate and you can get on with your everyday lives.

4. Share contacts

If you test positive for coronavirus, the NHS Test and Trace service will send you a text or email alert or call you within 24 hours.

They will provide instructions on how to share details of people you have been in close, recent contact with and places you have visited.

It is important that you respond as soon as possible so that appropriate advice can be given to those who need it.

You will be asked to do this online via a secure website or you will be called by an NHS contact tracer.

 A contact tracer working in a call centre in Brussels, Belgium
A contact tracer working in a call centre in Brussels, BelgiumCredit: AFP

How will I know if I’ve been in contact with a positive case?

Officials said the app software now reliably detects 99.3 per cent of nearby app users, regardless of what type of phone they have.

And it will use, on average, two to three per cent of a phone’s battery life each day, officials say.

Can I get a test if I have no symptoms?

No, the only people who will need to be tested at the moment are those with symptoms.

If you are informed that you have been in contact with someone and you don’t have symptoms, you will need to self-isolate for the full 14 days.

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Should you develop symptoms in that time, that’s when you need to apply for a test.

Professor John Newton, National Coordinator of Test and Trace, said: “If you are a contact and you don’t have symptoms there’s very little value, so you have to do your 14-day isolation.

“You will not be released because you may still be incubating the virus.

“We would like to get the timing from symptom to the result to within 48 hours, which gives a day or so to identify the contacts and ask them to self-isolate.”

Where can I get tested?

Two kinds of tests are available for COVID-19: viral tests and antibody tests.

  • A viral test tells you if you have a current infection.
  • An antibody test might tell you if you had a past infection.

Book a visit to a test site to have the test today. Or order a home test kit if you cannot get to a test site.

What support is there if I have to self-isolate?

People who are contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service are given clear information explaining what they must do and how they can access local support if needed.

Guidance is also available online at the Government’s website.

The Department for Work and Pensions has also announced that those having to self-isolate will be eligible for statutory sick pay if they are unable to work from home.

This applies across the four nations of the UK.

How secure is contact tracing?

People can choose at any time to make the app stop recording connections to other phones.

And the app will now not send any information to the NHS or the Government – people will only be given advice to self-isolate if they are at risk, or advised to get a test if they have symptoms.

What if I don’t want to share my contact’s data?

The app will have a toggle switch for people to turn the contact tracing on or off without uninstalling the app.

People will have to report a positive test themselves in order to alert people they may have put at risk.

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Simon Thompson, managing director of England and Wales’ app, told the Mail Online: “My team have worked tirelessly to develop the new NHS Covid-19 app and we are incredibly grateful to all residents of the Isle of Wight, London Borough of Newham, NHS Volunteer Responders and the team that went before us; the learnings and insight have made the app what it is today.

“We are now giving businesses the time to prepare their venues ahead of the app becoming available across England and Wales. We are working closely to engage, educate and inform them about how the App works and how they can play their part.

“The QR system is a free, easy and privacy preserving way to check-in customers to venues, and we encourage all businesses to get involved and download and display the official NHS QR code posters.”



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