Isle of Wight to test new Covid-19 tracing app

Video report by ITV News Meridian's Sally Simmonds

A new coronavirus contact tracing app for England is to be trialled on the Isle of Wight.

It will be the second time the island's residents are involved in such a trial before a national rollout.

NHS volunteer responders across England will also take part from Thursday, "followed shortly" by the London borough of Newham, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

It comes after the Government ditched efforts to develop its own technology in June amid accuracy issues and concerns about privacy.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock first suggested it would be available in mid-May.

The second version adopts an Apple and Google-developed system - already used in several countries across the world - which handles data in a more privacy-friendly manner, using Bluetooth to keep an anonymous log of people a user has been close to that they may not know, such as a stranger on a bus.

It features alerts based on postcode, letting users know the level of coronavirus risk in their district, as well as QR check-in for whenever a user visits a public venue.

If a user is told to self-isolate, a timer feature will help count down that period.

Islanders were urged to download the first app in May. Credit: Steve Parsons/PA Wire/PA Images

Island residents will receive a personal invitation to join in the trial by post.

A new feature of the app will allow users to check in to participating venues and businesses anonymously, using their phones.

Businesses who want to join in will be able to download a unique QR code to display at entrances.

Dave Stewart, Leader of the Isle of Wight Council said: “Earlier this year, as part of the response to coronavirus, the Island took part in testing the first NHS COVID-19 app.

“As a direct result of our incredible, collective effort an improved app has been developed and now, we along with others are being asked to help test this app once again.

“We are starting to see our communities open up again, and a return to a more normal way of life.

“But coronavirus has not gone and until a vaccine or treatment is found, testing and contact tracing is the best way to stop the virus from spreading further. This app is another tool in our toolkit for helping to contain the virus.”

A view of Ryde on the Isle of Wight where residents will again take part in the app's trial. Credit: Steve Parsons/PA Wire/PA Images

Despite initial hype, officials have warned that contact tracing apps are not a "silver bullet" for coronavirus but could support the NHS Test and Trace effort.

Its effectiveness will also rely on public uptake. Even in countries like Iceland where 38% of the population are reported to have downloaded the contact tracing app, one expert overseeing it told MIT Technology Review it was not a "game changer".

The DHSC said its fresh attempt uses the latest security technology designed with user privacy in mind.

"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," said Mr Hancock.

"Building on the feedback from the first phase, I want to thank Isle of Wight residents who will again play a vital national role in fighting this pandemic, joined by residents in Newham, London, and our incredible NHS volunteer responders.

"We are hugely grateful to everyone playing their part to rigorously test the new app and provide the foundation for a national rollout."

It is still not clear when the Government intends to make the app more widely available across England. Northern Ireland has already launched its own app, while Scotland is expected to have one by autumn.

"There is no silver bullet when it comes to tackling coronavirus," said Dido Harding, executive chairwoman of the NHS Test and Trace programme.

"The app is a great step forward and will complement all of the work we are doing with local areas across the country to reach more people in their communities and work towards our vision of helping more people get back to the most normal life possible at the lowest risk."