An app to help to contain the spread of the coronavirus will be launched in England and Wales on September 24, months later than the British government had hoped.
It comes after plans for a contact-and-trace system developed by UK-Government failed to live up to expectations when it was tested on the Isle of Wight.
The new system was originally developed by Apple and Google and has been adapted to use QR codes to help monitor movement. There has previously been some concerns over privacy relating to the use of QR codes.
The system also has echoes of the system used in the UAE for contactless dining where QR codes are sometimes used. In the UK, businesses will be asked to join the QR system voluntarily.
The new app can tell people to self-islolate if they are tracked to be close someone who has the disease.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock described the launch as “a defining moment”.
Simon Thompson, managing director of England and Wales’ app, said: “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.”
How does it work?
The NHS app is based on Apple and Google’s Bluetooth system with an added QR code element which will help users easily recover where they have been, and contacts people who may have been contaminated.
If you spend 15 minutes within 2 metres of someone who tests positive, you will be alerted and advised to self-isolate.
Features on the app include a QR code system that business owners are encouraged to join.
The QR check-in system attaches your phone to your visit. For health professionals, that allows the app enough information in case they need to issue a Covid alert.
The government says the app will help businesses maintain social distance limits and reduce capacity in restaurants.
Users who are self-isolating can use an ‘isolation companion’ feature that shows how long to go.
The app also allows you to know the risk factor based on your postcode.
What about the first app attempt?
The government’s first attempt to build a home-grown app ended in failure.
All the reasons for that failure are not immediately apparent but its use of Bluetooth location tracking was poor in comparison with the Apple-Google app.
One of the big differences between the two was the way they stored data.
The NHS’s app kept information centralised and the Google/Apple app is de-centralised.
The failed app hoped to record each time two phones came within range and users would receive an alert if they got close to somebody who could be infectious.
Doesn’t the UAE use QR codes?
Yes, the Al Hasn UAE app is the official Covid-19 testing channel for health authorities in the United Arab Emirates, where the system also ties to your Emirates ID.
Users can receive test results directly to their phone via a QR code that is proof of their health status and that of everyone else around you who also have the app, giving you peace of mind that you can safely interact.
The app also helps trace people who may have come within close proximity to confirmed cases for an extended period of time.
Other developments away from the Al Hosn app include the rise of contactless dining using QR codes.
Delivery platform Zomato says more than 1,500 restaurants in the Emirates are ready to offer the experience, increasing safety amid the pandemic for those looking to dine out as cities reopen.
Once guests are seated, they scan the QR code attached to their table to generate a digital menu on their device, from which they can place their orders. Once they have finished their meals, diners need only to pay their bills, again using the app, then simply walk out.
Why is it needed?
The UK has the worst death toll in Europe at more than 41,000, and is seeing an alarming increase in new cases.
On the day the new app was launched, the government admitted the R number was between 1 and 1.2 which means each patient is infecting more than one person and the outbreak is growing again.
In Birmingham and in Lanarkshire, Scotland people are being banned from entertaining other households.
Coronavirus cases in England are increasing by up to 3,200 a day with the latest figures showing the majority of cases are among the younger generation. The previous week the figures stood at one in every 2,000 people.
Almost 40,000 people had the virus during the week August 30 to September 5, according to the figures released by the UK’s Office of National Statistics on Friday.