July 5, 2020
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Covid-19: UK abandons proprietary contact tracking app to upgrade to Apple and Google

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NHS abandoned its plans to develop its own centralized contact tracking application in favor of developing a version based on technologies provided by Google and Apple.

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An important turnaround for the government is embarrassment, as the app was originally designed to be a key component of its testing, tracking and tracking program.

Ministers wanted a centralized version of the technology in which anonymous data from people reporting symptoms of Covid-19 could be stored in the NHS database. In a decentralized model, data is not stored in a single official database. Earlier this week, Italy and Germany launched applications based on the Google-Apple model.

However, the NHS app, which was tested on the Isle of Wight, recognized only 4% of Apple phones and 75% of Google devices from Android. This is due to the fact that the design of the Apple operating system for the iPhone means that applications go into sleep mode when they are not in use and cannot be activated via Bluetooth.

The government said they tested both systems over the past month, and found that the Apple-Google model recognizes 99% of Android and iPhone phones. This model, however, has problems with the difference between those who are at a distance of one meter or three meters.

At the government’s daily pandemic briefing, Secretary of Health Matt Hancock said: “Our application will not work at this time because Apple will not change their system. But he can measure the distance. And their application cannot measure the distance to a level that suits us well enough. ” He added: “We will share our algorithm and the work we have done to calculate the distance, and combine it with their work to create a new solution.”

Hancock will not indicate the date when a new application will be launched, but it will be ready no earlier than fall. In addition, the product may not include contact tracking at this time and may be limited to allowing users to report symptoms, receive tips, and order a test.

Hancock said: “In the meantime, a testing and tracking system based on old-fashioned tracking of contacts with people works well, detecting local outbreaks and helping us control the virus.” Recent data showed that a quarter of the people who tested positive for covid-19 in the second week of the testing and tracking scheme could not be reached.

In a statement, the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies said it was “deeply concerned about the existing state contact tracking system that is not suitable for this purpose.”

Chris Hopson, Executive Director of NHS Providers, called the app announcement disappointing. “This is a failure to create a worldwide testing and tracing system in which an effective application will play an important role.” He added: “This episode is another example of the danger of over-promising and under-utilization.”

This article is made freely available for use in accordance with the terms and conditions of the BMJ website for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic or until the BMJ determines otherwise. You can use, download and print the article for any legal, non-commercial purposes (including extracting text and data), provided that all copyright and trademark notices are preserved.



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