We asked a doctor to explain how the app works, ‘track and trace’

Its official description reads: ‘Protect your loved ones with the official NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app for England and Wales.

‘It’s the fastest way of knowing when you’re at risk from coronavirus (Covid-19). The quicker you know, the quicker you can alert your loved ones, and your community.

In a bid to help monitor the spread of coronavirus, the NHS has finally launched its official contact tracing app across England and Wales.

The app was initially promised for a mid-May launch, but thanks to delays and complications building these untested apps and issues discovered during their trial on the Isle of Wight, the app – named NHS Covid-19 – has only just been launched.

‘The more of us that use it, the better we can control coronavirus.

‘Protect your loved ones. Please download the app.’

But for many of us, there’s still a lot of confusion about what exactly ‘track and trace’ is, and how the app actually works.

“The NHS Covid-19 track and trace app is essentially an application which will be able to alert people to self-isolate if their phone detects they were near someone who has Covid-19,” explains Dr Aragona Giuseppe, GP and medical advisor at Prescription Doctor.

The app uses a system developed by Apple and Google which uses Bluetooth to keep an anonymous log of close contacts. If two people who have the app are in close contact to one another for more than five minutes, they will exchange ‘keys’, or Bluetooth ‘digital handshakes’. The signal strength of the Bluetooth is what measures proximity. This is the ‘trace’ aspect of the app, and is perhaps the most confusing part. The rest is pretty straightforward.

Dr Giuseppe breaks it down: “The app has a number of features, such as Trace which works to find out when you’ve been near other app users who have tested positive for Covid-19; Alert which lets you know the level of risk in your postcode area; Check In which alerts you when you’ve visited an area where you might have come into contact with someone with coronavirus (via a QR code scanner); Symptoms which checks if you have coronavirus symptoms and if you need to order a test; Test which assists you in ordering a test; and Isolate which keeps track of your isolation time and offers advice on what you can and can’t do.”

Though it may sound complicated at first, the app is very user-friendly and it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. And above all, it’s a vital step in protecting ourselves and those around us from coronavirus.

“All aspects of the app are there to ensure that you are keeping yourself and others safe, and to ultimately help curb the spread of the virus within various communities,” says Dr Giuseppe. “Contact tracing has been a method used for many decades, but obviously in very different ways to now. Contact tracing has been used to track diseases such as tuberculosis, measles, STISs, bacterial infections and other infections such as SARS, as well as notably eliminating smallpox. The main goals of contact tracing are to reduce the spread of infection, to alert those who have possibly been infected and to give diagnosis or offer treatment to those already infected.”

Dr Giuseppe also has a reassuring word for anyone who may be concerned about their data: “The app has been created with the help of many medical experts and privacy groups to make sure that your privacy isn’t being breached, so nobody will know who or where you are.”

The NHS COVID-19 app can be downloaded to your iPhone via the App Store or the Google Play Store on an Android. In terms of software, you’ll need iOS 13.5 on your iPhone or or Android 6.0 or later.

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