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New NHS app will tell you if you’ve been near someone with coronavirus

THE NHS are launching an app which alerts you if you come too close to someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. 

The contact tracing app, which will operate on an opt-in basis, will detect people with Covid-19 using short-range Bluetooth signals - before alerting those nearby.

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 The app will detect people with Covid-19 using short-range Bluetooth signals
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The app will detect people with Covid-19 using short-range Bluetooth signalsCredit: Getty Images - Getty

And bosses are said to be planning to release the new technology just before the lockdown is lifted in the UK.

It comes after the coronavirus death toll in England jumped by 367 today in one day alone - taking the UK total to 1,815.

NHS chiefs are hoping the app will attract more than 50 per cent of the population, according to Sky News.

They say large numbers of people using it will be necessary for it to work effectively.

It is believed the app will find other phones nearby using short-range Bluetooth signals, then store a record of those contacts on the device.

Then, if someone tests positive for Covid-19, they will be able to upload those contacts, who can then be alerted - after a suitable delay, to avoid accidentally identifying an individual - via the app.

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This method means data is not sent regularly to a central authority - potentially easing concerns around privacy.

NHSX, the NHS England innovation unit leading the project, is planning to appoint an Ethics Board to oversee the project, with board members to be identified over the coming weeks.

Last week, a group of "responsible technologists" penned an open letter to the CEO of NHSX and the Secretary of State for Health warning that "location and contact tracking technology could be used as a means of social control".

It is believed this letter was published in response to the early phase of the development of the app, which was originally intended to be used during the "containment" phase of the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Experts have already raised a string of concerns about the app - including how how it would be safeguarded and how it would include the large numbers of over-55s without smartphones.

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Despite this, a team of medical researchers and bioethicists at Oxford University, a mobile contact tracing app is needed "urgently" in the UK to ease the pressure the NHS is facing - and curb coronavirus.

The argue it could also help to reduce the serious social, psychological and economic impacts caused by widespread lockdowns - and critically - slow the spread of infection until vaccines and antiviral treatments become widely available.

Professor Christophe Fraser from Oxford University’s Big Data Institute, Nuffield Department of Medicine, wrote today in Science: “We need a mobile contact tracing app to urgently support health services to control coronavirus transmission, target interventions and keep people safe.

"Our analysis suggests that about half of transmissions occur in the early phase of the infection, before you show any symptoms of infection.

"Our mathematical models also highlight that traditional public health contact tracing approaches provide incomplete data and cannot keep up with the pace of this pandemic.”

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The new NHS-backed app comes after King's College London, launched the Covid Symptom Tracker in the UK earlier this month to understand how many people are infected with coronavirus after the Government stopped testing in the community in the first week of March.

The team behind it said that at the moment "there is no alternative system" and that the app could help the NHS in working out if some of the symptoms are real or not.

In fact, the app has already revealed staggering results - and showed 6.6million Brits may already have coronavirus.

They were able to make this estimation as  ten per cent of the 650,000 people who signed up to the app in the first 24 hours showed signs of the virus.

Other countries have also developed apps for contact tracing during the coronavirus outbreak.

In particular, Singapore have been using TraceTogether, a Bluetooth-powered app, which has been downloaded more than 800,000 times, and helped the city-state substantially suppress its coronavirus outbreak.

Dr Anthony Costello, a specialist in global health, this morning praised South Korea for using an app to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

He told Radio 4's Today programme: "In Korea they gave positives an app where they would have to send symptoms in twice a day to monitor them but also they could monitor where they were abiding by quarantine."

Despite this, South Korea have been publicly broadcasting details of infected people's age, gender and most recent location to anyone within 100 metres via text message.

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Asked about this by Parliament's Health and Social Care Committee, Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said such a system could be used to attack people, for instance on social media.

He said: "As a doctor, I am very against giving any patient-identifiable information, and for that reason we should also be careful, so I am not in favour of going down to street level or, 'You are within 100 metres of coronavirus'.

"That is the wrong approach for this country."

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