Government now says new NHS app will feature contact tracing after confusion

A new coronavirus app will have the ability to notify people if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive – despite Number 10 suggesting that it wouldn’t.

In the latest saga surrounding the long-delayed app, the Department of Health and Social Care has contradicted the Prime Minister’s official spokesman about which features the new app will include.

Earlier, the spokesman had refused to confirm that the app would come with the promised automatic contact tracing function.

This alerts people if they had been in close vicinity to someone who has the virus for 15 minutes and is seen as a key part of efforts to stop the spread.

Images released last month of what it might look like showed a pulsing green tick displayed when contact tracing was active in the area.

The spokesman earlier said the app would be able to allow people to book a test, get their results and report symptoms.

But asked whether it would include contact tracing, he said: ‘I have set out to you the functions which it will have when it has launched.’

It was thought the NHS Test and Trace operation would continue to do all contact tracing manually, in the absence of the automated service.

After the remarks were made and reported, the Department of Health later clarified that the app would have contact tracing after all.

Outlining the other features, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘It will be there to check and report symptoms, book a test, find out if you have tested positive or not and if you need to self-isolate.

‘You will be able to check the risk level of your local area and it will provide for the QR code check-in on entry to various premises with your phones, instead of having to fill out a check-in box or anything else to provide your contact details.’

It is ‘not the intention’ to make downloading the app mandatory but ‘it will be backed by a social media campaign pointing out the role it can play in helping to check and report symptoms and to help keep yourself, your loved ones and your friends safe’.

The app has been plagued with problems since it was first announced. The first version was piloted on the Isle of Wight back in May but was then abandoned because users said it didn’t work.

The Government then moved to a model developed by Apple and Google and carried out further tests before announcing it was ready to launch earlier this month.

The NHS has previously said the app uses an algorithm to detect whether the user has been within two metres for 15 minutes or longer of someone who has tested positive for the virus.

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