An NHS contact-tracing app aimed at limiting the future spread of coronavirus will be trialled on the Isle of Wight this week, a cabinet minister has told Sky News.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed the island in the English Channel will be the first place in the UK where the new, “exciting” NHS smartphone app will be used.
It has previously been suggested that areas that trial the contact-tracing app could also have coronavirus lockdown measures eased, in an experiment to see how the entire UK could exit stringent social distancing rules.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, Mr Shapps explained how the NHS app would “alert people if they’ve been near somebody who is later diagnosed with having coronavirus”.
He added this would be “a fantastic way to ensure that we are really able to keep a lid on this going forward and we don’t get that second wave” of COVID-19 infections.
As well as the NHS app, the government have promised to employ 18,000 contact-tracers by the middle of this month, as it pursues a “test, track and trace” strategy with a view to lifting the UK’s lockdown.
“Later in the month, that app will be rolled out and deployed – assuming the tests are successful, of course – to the population at large,” Mr Shapps said, as he explained how a majority of the UK population would need to download the app for it to be effective.
“The idea is we will encourage as many people to take this up as possible.
“It’s going to be a huge national effort. We need for this to work, 50% to 60% of people to be using this app.”
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Mr Shapps described downloading the app, when it is available across the country, as “the best possible way to help the NHS”.
Referencing the weekly Clap for Our Carers applause, he said: “On a Thursday night, when people are going out and clapping in future, the ability to do something else of use, which will be to download that app, will be a great way to support the NHS.”
The transport secretary said the app would be “completely confidential” and explained people would not be told the specific individual it was they had interacted with, who had been diagnosed with coronavirus.
He also suggested, in future, those coming to the UK would be required to download the app as part of stricter rules at airports.
Mr Shapps could not say how many of the promised 18,000 contact-tracers had already been recruited, but vowed that when the app is ready for UK-wide deployment, “we will have the people in place”.
“As you’ve seen, people are more than willing to come forward and be incredibly public-spirited when it comes to defeating this as a nation,” he added.
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Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told Sophy Ridge: “It’s that testing and tracing now that’s going to be so important in terms of easing the measures of the lockdown in the weeks and months ahead.”
He added: “There has to be a strategy for how we can ensure there is a very large take-up of this app, I think it’s obvious that we should need to do that.”
However, asked if Britons should be compelled to download the app in future, Mr Thomas-Symonds warned: “Not everybody has a smartphone in the first place to which you could download the app.
“What is the government’s strategy in relation to that? Secondly, there are also issues around privacy and security.
“There are people for whom location services on their mobile devices are turned off for particular safety reasons and keeping themselves safe.”