The NHS contact tracking coronavirus app launched later this week in a storm of doubt and uncertainty.
It's based on software, an API, developed by tech giants Apple and Google, who formed an unprecedented alliance at the start of the pandemic.
However, the effectiveness of the app was questioned on the eve of its launch. A charity asked why the public had not yet received data from recent tests on the Isle of Wight and Newham, east London.
According to representatives from both companies, the app does not use location data and does not share any personal information with Apple, Google, the NHS or other stakeholders.
It works via Bluetooth, which is connected to almost every smartphone in the world, and includes a notification system that notifies people when they have been in close proximity to someone diagnosed with Covid-19.
Users can choose to declare that they tested positive, in which case they can remain anonymous, which means that users will not know who infected them or where it happened.
If a person receives a positive diagnosis, they will be contacted by their local health authority and given a unique PIN which, when pasted into the app, will register the positive result.
The phone itself then determines which devices should send an alert warning of possible infection. This decentralized approach means that no data is stored on a server.
Telephones do this based on time and proximity parameters set by the local health authority, which in the case of the UK is the NHS.
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The effectiveness of the soon-to-be-released app was questioned on the eve of its launch. A charity asked why the public has not yet received data from recent tests on the Isle of Wight and Newham, east London
Researchers say "automatic and semi-automatic" contact tracking apps are no substitute for human contact tracking tracers who call people to tell them to stay inside. Google and Apple say it is useful for identifying strangers who may be infected and which should be used alongside manual methods, rather than being replaced
Despite the upcoming launch of the app, the Health Foundation is concerned that the public has not yet seen the results of pilot tests and is calling for more transparency.
She also wants to make sure the technology doesn't exacerbate existing health inequalities and that some people are at higher risk for coronavirus than others.
"With a virus spreading as fast as Covid-19, the automatic contact tracking that the app promises could prove invaluable in reducing its spread," said Josh Keith, senior fellow at the Health Foundation.
& # 39; Plus, the app's additional features, such as booking a test, reporting symptoms or checking the risk level in the postcode district, could be a helpful source of advice and support related to Covid-19.
“However, for any major nationwide public health intervention, it is important that the government release evidence prior to launch that it is effective and ready for mass adoption.
& # 39; This is key to building trust with the app as users want to know that it will benefit them and their community.
"However, all the data on the pilots that took place in August were noticeably missing, so important questions about the effectiveness of the app remained unanswered."
The Department of Health and Welfare (DHSC) states that studies have shown the app to be accurate and responsive, with positive feedback from users.
Large cellular operators have also committed to zeroing all data charges, which means customers won't be charging any data when using the app.
"It is important that a wide range of people download and use the app," said a DHSC spokesman.
& # 39; The NHS Covid-19 app is a central part of NHS Test and Trace in England and works with traditional contact tracing services and tests to help individuals understand if they are at risk of infection so they can take action can take to protect themselves their communities.
"We spoke to groups with protected traits such as age, ethnicity and disability, with health inequalities and with groups particularly affected by coronavirus. The app and supporting material will be available in multiple languages."
The draft for the app was released for free on May 20, and it eventually took over the doomed NHSX app, which was abandoned in June for £ 12 million.
The original NHS app was slated for release in mid-May, but it was scrapped due to a number of bugs, including detecting only four percent of contacts on iPhones.
After an embarrassing U-turn and adopting the Google and Apple versions, Matt Hancock has repeatedly diverted the blame for the inability to launch an app.
Meanwhile, Gibraltar, Ireland, Germany and 32 other countries and regions have launched their own apps, many of which are based on the Apple and Google APIs.
In order for the app to be beneficial, government officials and technology firms are encouraging as many people as possible to download it.
A full review found that tracking contacts via smartphones is unlikely to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
The new NHS test and trace app will only work if the vast majority of the country has it installed and social distancing is still required even then, according to a new study.
The NHS app was launched as a pilot last week on the Isle of Wight. Users were asked to scan barcodes when going out to create a “virtual movement diary”.
This is the NHS 'second trial on the island after its disastrous first attempt, which was canceled in June.
A new study from University College London found that these types of tracking apps only work if the vast majority of the population has them installed and actively using them.
When reviewing 15 previous scientific studies on the use of the apps, the team found that even if 80 percent of the population installed them, further public health restrictions would be required to slow the spread of the deadly virus.
These measures include restrictions already in place to slow the spread, including social distancing, wearing masks indoors, and even closing pubs.
Researchers say "automatic and semi-automatic" contact tracking apps are no substitute for human contact tracking tracers who call people to tell them to stay inside.
This is because previous research has found that even under optimistic assumptions – where up to 80 percent of people use a contract tracking app with 90 percent of contacts identified after quarantine advice – physical distancing and venue closings are still required in order to to suppress the R number.
Researchers say "automatic and semi-automated" contact tracking apps are no substitute for human contact tracking tracers who call people to tell them to stay inside.
In a conference call yesterday, representatives from Google and Apple said the app should improve, not replace manual tracking.
They added that in tests done in-house during development, 30 percent of exposure notifications triggered were not captured through manual contact tracing.
It is assumed that the app not only remains anonymous and the data used is free, but also works across borders with the apps of other nations and has a negligible effect on battery life.
Extortionate energy consumption was a major problem with the NHSX app and early iterations of the Apple-Google platform.
A representative from Google spoke about future developments for the contact tracing app and said the company is reviewing the app to work on wearables.
For example, smartwatches or custom-made straps that can be worn and connected to an iPhone to keep track of all movements.
Apple and Google recently announced a separate system for regions that don't have the resources to develop a full app.
This system, called Exposure Notifications Express, does not require health authorities to create their own app, and it is hoped that this simplified version will encourage the introduction of Track & Trace protocols.
Health officials need to authorize the system before it can go live in a particular region, and the tech giants say it is designed to work with existing track-and-trace apps, rather than replacing them.
How does the Exposure Notifications Express system work?
After upgrading to iOS 13.7 or later, users in countries using Exposure Notifications Express (ENS) will see a notification informing them that exposure notifications are now available in their region.
Users can tap the notification to go to a portal to discuss consent.
Here you can activate or deny the function.
For iOS this is possible without having to download an app.
For Android users, the notification prompts them to download a generic auto-generated app with branding from the user's local health authority.
Those who deny permissions will not hear or see any other notification.
For those who accept the system, their phone will interact with nearby devices via bluetooth.
The data is anonymous and decentralized, ie no personal data is passed on to the Public Health Authority, Google or Apple.
When a person receives a notification that they may be infected, the branding and information comes directly from the PHA, not Google or Apple.
The PHA is also responsible for setting the parameters for what it considers an infectious event. For example, how close and for how long two people need to be to warrant notification of the risk of infection.
The PHA is also responsible for providing information on next steps such as quarantine and test logs.
A user can also enter their own positive diagnosis
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