Could an app be the way to take the UK out of coronavirus lockdown?

  • Video report by ITV News Video Producer Natalia Jorquera

The government and the NHS's digital department, NHSX, are in the process of developing an app which would tell you if you've recently been close to someone who might have had coronavirus.

The app will be trialled in the Isle of Wight, as the Government aim to judge its effectiveness.

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How might the app work?

People with the app can voluntarily opt-in to record details of their symptoms when they start to feel unwell.

The app would then send an alert to other app users who were recently close to that person to let them know that they have been in contact with someone who might have coronavirus. But the app won't identify who the person is.

Now if that person suspected of having the virus is tested and confirmed to have it - an alert goes out warning others who were in recent contact to go into quarantine to help stop the spread of the virus.This process is known as contact tracing.

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt

The app uses short-range Bluetooth signals on people's phones to work out who you've been close to, storing these contacts on your phone.

Dr Michelle Kendall is part of Oxford University's Nuffield Department of Medicine team who have been helping to develop the mobile contact tracing app programme.

"Our modelling has shown that the app will have a positive effect, even with low uptake, but the more people who use it, the faster we can stop the spread of the disease," Dr Kendall said.

"Our estimates are that for every one or two people who install the app, one onward infection is averted and if just over half the population downloads the app then the epidemic can be suppressed entirely."

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What about the privacy of users?

This app would not be compulsory: people will have to opt in to use it.The Health Secretary Matt Hancock says "all data will be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards".

However, the app has raised concerns among privacy campaigners like Silkie Carlo from Big Brother Watch, she said: "You can't solve a pandemic with an app and this will do nothing to reduce transmission of the virus and the group who are most vulnerable to the virus - older people are less likely to have the app. What we need to be incredibly cautious of is the fact that a government backed tracking app is dangerously prone to mission creep."

It has been assured that the app's data would not be available for use by the police to enforce social-distancing rules, nor will it be used to track your geolocation.

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Have other countries adopted a similar app?

Voluntary smartphone software has already been used in Singapore and China, but in some areas in China people were only able to go into public spaces if they had downloaded the app.

And over in South Korea, it's a little bit more personal, their testing regime sends out a text with details of an infected person’s age, gender and recently-visited locations to anyone within 100 metres of them.

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Could an app alone end the lockdown?

Dr Kendall says the app "can limit the number of new infections and enough people use it can delay or even prevent us having to have a second lockdown".

However, an app would be just one part of a range of measures to lift the UK's lockdown, including more testing and allowing certain sectors to re-open - gradually easing the restrictions over a period of time, while continuing to observe social distancing to stop the spread of the virus and overwhelm the NHS.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know