The BBC reports that England will begin testing of a COVID-19 contact-tracing app in the Isle of Wight this Thursday. The App uses the Apple-Google exposure notification API, which has been used by other countries including Germany, Ireland, and Canada. This comes after an original test was cancelled because the system it used only tracked 4% of iPhone users contacts.
In most ways the app works like other contact-tracing apps: if someone is near another user, the device will record that contact so that if someone tests positive for COVID-19 the data can be used to automatically assist in contact-tracing. The app also has an additional feature that allows users to scan a QR code at businesses they enter so that they can be alerted if that location was linked to other infections.
The original version of the App used a different system developed by the UK government, not Apple and Google, which allowed the government more access to the data than the Apple-Google API. The government wanted to use this data to better analyze if people were close enough to spread the virus. The Apple-Google API doesn’t provide this information, it just gives a more general idea of how much risk a person has.
The UK government wants to get this software out quickly to help slow the virus spread and move back to normal life, but they want to make sure they are doing it right and not unnecessarily sending too many people into quarantine. Professor Christophe Fraser, a scientific advisor from Oxford University, spoke to the BBC about the strong need for a contact-tracing app:
“We need the app to help stop transmission by tracing close-proximity contacts as quickly and as comprehensively as possible, capturing those contacts we don’t know or don’t remember meeting,”
The government isn’t sure yet when a full rollout of the app will occur, but it could still take some time as they want to increase the accuracy of the system and test it before they release it to the public.