Mobile app to assist with easing lockdown ‘should be ready in three weeks’

Australia already uses a CovidSafe app to help with contact tracing during the coronavirus outbreak.

Australia already uses a CovidSafe app to help with contact tracing during the coronavirus outbreak. Photograph: Alexander Britton/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

MPs have been told that a mobile app designed to help with the easing of the coronavirus lockdown is 'two to three weeks away' from being rolled out.

Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, the health service's digital innovation arm, told the Science and Technology Committee the voluntary tool would be trialled in a 'small area' shortly to help gauge its success.

He said: 'We are, I hope, on course to have the app ready for when it will be needed, for the moment when the country looks to have the tools to come out of lockdown safely.

'We are going as fast as we can, we have teams of people looking at it 24/7.'

But Mr Gould admitted regret after the committee heard work to develop the app did not start until March 7, two weeks before lockdown measures were introduced across the UK.

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He said: 'Yes it could have done, and with the benefit of hindsight I wish that it had.'

The app will work by using a smartphone's Bluetooth functionality to keep an anonymous record of other smartphone users they come into close proximity with.

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The user will then have the option to send data to the app if they begin to show signs of having contracting coronavirus - or being found to have tested positive for Covid-19 - which will then send a notification to others who have been in close contact with the phone user.

Professor Christophe Fraser, senior group leader in pathogen dynamics at University of Oxford Big Data Institute, told the committee that widespread uptake of a contact-tracing app would likely keep the reproduction rate - seen as crucial for easing lockdown measures - low.

Prof Fraser said: 'Because we don't know what the uptake of the app will be, in scenarios that are relatively pessimistic we found that if roughly 60% of the population use the app, it would be enough to bring the reproduction number below one and control the epidemic.'

Mr Gould said it would be 'tough' to get 80% of smartphone users to install the contact-tracing app, but said encouraging people to do so needed to become part of the government's 'core message' in limiting the spread of the virus.

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