Apple and Google could collaborate with the NHS on a coronavirus app

Apple and Google are working on a new app that could play a crucial part in ending the current worldwide lockdowns, which are part of the battle against the spread of coronavirus.

The tech giants have announced that they are currently working on a coronavirus contact tracing app which aims to identify and warn people who have recently been in contact with an infected person.

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Such an app could be an essential step in ending some of strictest lockdown measures globally. However, in order to be effective, the app would need to be used widely.

How does contact tracing work?

Contract tracing apps will allow those who have self-diagnosed as being infected with coronavirus to anonymously declare their status as either ‘currently infected’ or ‘previously infected’ within the app.

Via bluetooth on users’ devices, the software will send a notification to others who have recently been in close contact to the self-diagnosed person so they can act accordingly, by self-isolating.

Apple and Google could be working with the NHS

There have also been rumours that this app could involve a collaboration with healthcare providers such as the NHSX - the NHS’ digital innovation unit. The speculation was prompted by Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s statement at the government's daily coronavirus press briefing on 12 April.

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At the briefing, Mr Hancock announced that the NHSX is planning to pre-release a new contact tracing app in the North of England later this week, adding that the NHS is "working closely with the world's leading tech companies" on the initiative.

In his announcement, he addressed the issue of privacy, saying, “All data will be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards, and would only be used for NHS care and research […] and we won't hold it any longer than is needed."

This has added fuel to the fire, since Apple and Google claim they developed their own contact tracing software, in a bid to keep their user’s privacy secure and anonymous to the authorities.

In a joint statement Apple and Google said, "Privacy, transparency and consent are of utmost importance in this effort and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders,"

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No location tracking or personal data will be recorded in their app.

Coloured coded alerts

The NHSX’s app concept will issue coloured coded alerts to users who have been in close proximity to an infected person.

If the user has only been in contact with a self diagnosed person, the app will send a yellow alert to let them know.

It will also let users who have previously anonymously announced their self-diagnosed infected status on the app to update their status once a medical test confirms they are infected.

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This status update in the app will then send a red alert to users who have been in recent contact with the infected party, letting them know the severity of the situation and asking them to self-isolate.

To stave off false reports, a verification code will be required for those with positive test results.