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UPDATE 1-England launches trial of revamped contact-tracing app

Thu, 13th Aug 2020 12:10

(Recasts, new dateline)

LONDON, Aug 13 (Reuters) - Britain's health ministry on
Thursday launched its delayed contact tracing app for England
with fresh trials after technical issues prompted a rethink of
its approach and a change of system.

The test and trace programme is key to detecting flare-ups
of COVID-19 and reopening the economy but has been dogged by
problems.

A smartphone app developed by the National Health Service
(NHS) was initially expected to be rolled out in May but did not
materialise, and in June, the government pivoted away from a
homegrown model to a system developed by Apple and
Google.

"We’ve worked with tech companies, international partners,
privacy and medical experts to develop an app that is simple to
use, secure and will help keep the country safe," health
minister Matt Hancock said.

The app will be tested on the Isle of Wight to the south of
England, as the first app was, as well as with healthcare
workers.

It will log how long and how close a person has spent near
another and alert them if they later test positive for COVID-19,
though the ministry said it was designed with privacy in mind
"so it tracks the virus, not people".

It will also let people scan barcode-like QR codes to log
venue visits.

The privacy-centric, decentralised system of the
Apple-Google model contrasts with the centralised approach
Britain had used before, and the app's launch follows a pivot
towards a more local approach for test and trace.

On Monday, the government said the tracing scheme would
become more locally targetted, and reduce the number of
national-level contact tracers.

Despite the delays and problems with the test and trace
system, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described it as "world
beating", while officials have played down the centrality of the
app, saying it is the "cherry on the cake" of the programme.

(Reporting by Paul Sandle and Alistair Smout, editing by
Estelle Shirbon)

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