A new COVID-19 contact tracing app, designed by both Apple and Google, has started its trial phase in England, multiple sources report.
The new app is designed to support the test-and-trace efforts of the UK National Health Service (NHS). With the Apple and Google app, a log of people and their interactions will be made available to the NHS, in case a person contracts the highly contagious disease.
Contact Tracing in the United Kingdom
It follows an earlier-developed app that had its trial version on the Isle of Wight, a southern island in England. However, this version failed to push through because of problems with the app's accuracy. The British government is now ready to test again, this time with an app designed by two global tech giants who have worked together against the pandemic.
According to a news article from BBC, the Isle of Wight is included again in the trials, plus another area and a volunteer group. While the project has already received the green light, a problem reportedly persists in the new app. Engineers working on the app are reportedly working on the distance discrepancy. The Bluetooth-based tech behind the tracing system mistakenly tags people being 6.6 feet or 2 meters, from one another.
Theoretically, the new COVID-19 contact tracing app will detect people, through their smartphones, in the event that they remain in close proximity with other people, with another smartphone. Furthermore, app users will be required to scan a QR (2D) barcode every time they go into a building, with every scan being automatically logged for future tracing.
"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," said Professor Christophe Fraser from Oxford University and a scientific advisor to the Department of Health.
Apple and Google Teaming Up Against COVID
Tech firms Apple and Google have partnered for the Exposure Notifications System (ENS), an app first known as the Privacy-Preserving Contact Tracing Project. More than an app, it includes frameworks and specs to facilitate contact tracing in response to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this month, the American state of Virginia also launched its own contact tracing app using the Apple-Google tech. Same as the new app on trial in England, Virginia also uses the ENS framework and Bluetooth technology to gather data. This app reportedly only notes how long a person has been exposed to a confirmed carrier, withholding personal information from both the app user and the contact. In Virginia, if an app-user tests positive, the app will notify the individual via a six-digit PIN number.
"For the purpose of this app, there wasn't an absolute need to be able to track where you are or who you are," Virginia Department of Health director Jeff Stover said.
Regarding the potential efficacy of using contact-tracing apps, a team of experts - economists, mathematicians, and epidemiologists - have published a report on the number of coronavirus incidents in the Isle of Wight, during the first phase of the contact tracing app rollout. Their study suggested that up to 60% of the population would have to use the contact tracer to effectively suppress the coronavirus.
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