Tracing app ‘could cause digital divide’

The NHS coronavirus contact tracing app Credit: Steve Parsons/PA

Fresh concerns have been raised over the much-anticipated coronavirus contact tracing app.

The Health Foundation warned that people could be “left behind” as polling shone a light on the different groups willing to download the app when it becomes available.

The think tank raised concerns over the “digital divide” between groups.

A survey of almost 2,000 Britons found that 62% are willing to download the app when it becomes available.

This rose to 73% among those in managerial, administrative or professional jobs, but just half of routine and manual workers, state pensioners and the unemployed said they would download the app.

The survey also revealed that 71% of those with a degree say they are likely to download the app, this falls to 63% for those with A-levels or equivalent only, 59% for those with GCSEs or equivalent, and 38% among those with no formal qualifications.

Meanwhile, 17% of over-65s said they do not own a smart phone.

The Health Foundation said that it was concerned that those without the app could miss out on up-to-date information about their risk of infection from contact with others.

It also raised concerns about “false alerts” from the app, saying that some groups would suffer “unintended consequences” if they received such an alert.

Adam Steventon, director of data analytics at the Health Foundation, said: “The NHS contact tracing app could play a critical role in the fight against Covid-19, expanding the number of people who are traced and speeding up the process.

“With a virus that is transmitted as quickly as coronavirus, this kind of instant contact tracing could prove invaluable.

“But there’s a significant risk that many will be left behind. The impact of Covid-19 is already being felt unequally across society and appears to be having a disproportionate impact on people living in more deprived areas, older people, and some ethnic minorities.

“Within that context, it’s especially concerning that people in lower paid jobs and those with less formal education say they are less likely to download and use the app, and of course not everyone has a smartphone.

“NHSX must ensure that the benefits of the app are experienced by the communities who need these the most, while ensuring that the potential negative consequences of the app, such as false alerts, do not fall on those least able to withstand them.

“It is also vital that those who do not have access to the app, are protected as a priority by the Government’s wider Test and Trace system and that a more comprehensive strategy to tackle health inequalities is put in place.”