Lockdown restrictions may soon begin to loosen – and human guinea pigs are supporting the struggle to return to normal by testing the new NHS coronavirus contact tracking application.
Officials hope the pioneering technology will help the UK defeat the deadly virus – and experts believe the high rate of absorption will quickly put an end to new epidemics, preventing a second deadly peak.
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A trial of the voluntary application – provisionally known as “NHS – Covid-19” – will begin on the Isle of Wight from Tuesday 5 May, when NHS staff on the Isle can use it before being deployed with its citizens.
Experts say daily infections should drop further – ideally below 1000 – before they can work effectively across Britain.
But Britain’s excessive death rate is one of the worst in Europe, according to new figures.
The government is hiring a team of 18,000 people to find the contacts of anyone infected with the virus.
What is contact tracking?
Contact tracing is a method used by scientists to slow the spread of infectious epidemics.
During the pandemic, anyone who has been in prolonged contact will be found.
These contacts can then be invited to isolate themselves.
However, there is some disagreement over what “close contact” might look like.
The government recommends staying two meters away from others – but the World Health Organization advises people to stay one meter apart.
The app will only capture distance, rather than time spent with a person and the frame.
Contact tracking is already used in Hong Kong, Singapore and Germany.
How the new application works
The app will work using Bluetooth to connect while another user’s smartphone is nearby, but will not use much of your phone’s battery life.
If a person develops symptoms of Covid-19, they can report their symptoms to the application and arrange a test immediately.
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The technology automatically sends an anonymous alert to other users who may have been infected, urging them to self-isolate if necessary – thereby stopping the spread.
They will then be able to book a coronavirus test.
Experts estimate that if 60% of Britons use the app on their phones, future epidemics could be avoided.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at the May 4 press conference that the application does not contain any personal information, as privacy is paramount and that it has been licensed for cybersecurity.
When can the British download the app?
Currently, the app is being tested and is not yet available to members of the public.
A national rollout is planned for mid-May, when it can be downloaded for free.
NHS bosses say the British can start using it by the end of May.
Hancock said that people living on the Isle of Wight were written with details on how to download the app to their phones.
Residents will test the technology first.
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Could this be our way out of the lockdown?
Contact tracing was important to lift restrictions in other countries, but only when combined with other measures.
South Korea did not lock out thanks to an early strategy of extensive tracing, combined with mass testing.
If adopted broadly, tracking contacts could help ease UK restrictions.
The government first tried to find contacts at the start of the epidemic, before there were too many cases for it to be effective.
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