The UK began trials of a new smartphone app this week designed to track Covid-19 infections within the community, with versions also available in languages such as Punjabi, Gujarati, Bangla and Urdu to ensure a wider outreach.
The new app, part of the UK's?National Health Service (NHS) Test and Trace service Test and Trace programme, is being overseen by British Indian entrepreneur Randeep Sidhu as Head of Product. More languages commonly used in England will also be added on as the app goes through its trial phase, with a key objective being addressing the higher risk posed by coronavirus to certain ethnicities, including people of Indian heritage. Public Health England (PHE) is conducting a wider review into the measures required to combat this ethnicity-driven disparity in the impact of the deadly virus and the new app is expected to form a key feature of the tracking process for it.
The new application, dubbed a “state-of-the-art app that is safe, simple and secure”, will begin trials this week among residents on the Isle of Wight region on the south coast of England and among NHS volunteer responders across England before expanding to the London borough of Newham. A wider roll-out is expected later this year based on the progress of the trials phase.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “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.
“It's essential we get the country moving again so people can get back to doing what they love. Our statistics show more people with symptoms are getting tested and NHS Test and Trace reaches the vast majority of people testing positive, and their contacts,” he said.
The app is expected to further enhance the current volunteer-backed test and trace system and will build on the feedback from an earlier version of an NHS app, which was also trialled on the Isle of Wight. The new version is designed to work alongside traditional contact tracing services and testing, to help people understand if they are at risk of infection so they can take appropriate action. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that it uses the latest in security technology and is designed with user privacy in mind, so it “tracks the virus and not people”.
“It's really important that we make it as easy as possible for everyone to engage with NHS Test and Trace. By launching an app that supports our integrated, localised approach to NHS Test and Trace, anyone with a smartphone will be able to find out if they are at risk of having caught the virus, quickly and easily order a test, and access the right guidance and advice,” said Dido Harding, Executive Chair of the NHS Test and Trace Programme.
“There is no silver bullet when it comes to tackling coronavirus. 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,” she said.