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NHS COVID-19 Contact Tracing App: Everything You Need to Know

Sep 24, 2020

The wait is finally over! An official COVID-19 contact tracing app is now available to download for those in England and Wales.

The NHS have launched a new app - available on both iOS and Android devices - that aims to help "make the country a safer place".

NHS COVID-19 contact tracing app available

It has been billed as "the fastest way to see if you're at risk" and helps form part of the government's strategy to fight against COVID-19.

The free app allows you to scan QR codes to register your visits at locations such as pubs and restaurants.

The app also allows you to use Bluetooth to monitor if you've come into contact with someone who has had a positive test.

It further instructs users to self-isolate for 14 days if it detects they were nearby someone who has the virus.

NHS COVID-19 contact tracing app demo

It also has a check-in scanner to alert owners if a venue they have visited is found to be an outbreak hotspot.

Anyone aged 16 and over is being asked to install the app on to their smartphone.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the app "helps us to find more people who are at risk of having the virus" that human contact tracers are unable to find.

"Everybody who downloads the app will be helping to protect themselves, helping to protect their loved ones, helping to protect their community because the more people who download it, the more effective it will be," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The app keeps secret who receives a self-isolation alert.


How do I download the COVID-19 contact tracing app?

Own an Android phone? Download from the Google Play Store
Own an iPhone? Download from Apple App Store

You can download the app for free, and it works on all recent smartphones that run iOS or Android.

If you're on an older device, you may not be able to download the app. The API that the app uses is created to only work with certain phones, so older phones are set to miss out.

For those with iPhones, the iPhone 6 and below will not be able to download the app. The UK government recommends downloading iOS 13.5 (the oldest iPhone this is available for is the 6S) or above before downloading the new app for it to work in its optimum way too.


Do I have to download the COVID-19 contact tracing app?

Currently, there is no legal requirement to download this app. However, it has been highly recommended to help keep you, your loved ones and the community safe.

It's also worth noting that the more people that download it, the more useful it should be at combating the pandemic across both England and Wales.

NHS COVID-19 contact tracing app

Will the app use my mobile data?

No, the app shouldn't eat into your mobile data. If you're with Vodafone, Three, EE, O2, Sky Mobile or Virgin Mobile, you'll be glad to know these networks have said they won't count any in-app activity against your data allowance.

If you're with any other network, please check with the provider.


How do I turn on contact tracing?

During the setup process, you'll be asked for the start of your postcode - this is to work out what region you are in - and some other details. We'd recommend filling these in as honestly as possible to help the system work as smoothly as it can.

You'll be asked to turn on Bluetooth for contact tracing, and we'd also recommend saying yes to this. It may have a slight negative impact on your battery life, but this is the feature that will help save lives and is core of this app.

It allows the system to monitor other users you've been nearby. If you've walked by someone in a shop who then tells the app five days later that they've tested positive for Covid-19 you'll get a notification to tell you to self isolate.

If you ever need to turn this feature off, you'll see a toggle at the bottom of the front page of the app. It'll give you a reminder for when you should turn it back on, but we'd recommend leaving this on at all times to help ensure the system works as smoothly as possible.


How to check-in with QR codes

Another element of the app is a "Venue Check In" system. When you arrive at a pub, restaurant or any other venue, you'll be asked to check-in, and now you can do that through this app.

There should be QR codes at most major venues, and you'll want to tap on the first option in the app to scan them.

Allow the app access to your camera - something that's necessary for this to work - and then hold your camera up to the QR code. You'll then have to enter some details, but this should be a touch smoother than existing systems in public places.


What data does the app have access to?

The app doesn't store or share any identifiable data with either the NHS or other services. It also doesn't monitor your location using GPS.

You'll be asked to share the first part of your postcode to identify your general location. This is thought to be so the NHS can work out where the app has been downloaded most, and so it can give you an answer to how high risk your local area is.

It'll ask for access to your Bluetooth features as well as your camera, if you're using the QR code feature, but otherwise you won't be asked to provide any other personal data.

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