NHS contact tracing app weakens before lockdown ends

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The NHS contact tracing app used in England and Wales sees its settings adjusted to send fewer COVID-19 exposure alerts, as England braces for the end of the lockdown on July 19 .

Currently, users are alerted if a contact tests positive after spending at least 15 minutes within two meters (6.5 feet) of them …

Background

Apple and Google have created a common contact tracing API that governments can use to power their applications. A key part of the API’s design are eight privacy guarantees, one of which is that no location tracking is captured or stored.

After initially going its own way, the UK government decided to adopt the API for the NHS COVID-19 app used in England and Wales.

The API uses the strength of the Bluetooth signal to estimate how close we are to people, and measures both distance and time to calculate an exposure risk. Each government is then free to define its own risk thresholds to alert users of the application. Once someone is alerted, they are asked to self-isolate until 10 days have passed since exposure *.

* Actual isolation time varies, as a contact may not test positive for a few days after your exposure. In a personal example, I was not alerted until eight days after contact, so I was only asked to self-isolate for two days.

The UK has adjusted the parameters several times in the light of scientific advice on the risks.

BBC News signals that the threshold is increased, so it will take a longer or closer contact to trigger an alert, although no details were revealed.

The NHS Covid-19 app will be changed to send fewer isolation alerts, the BBC has learned. The team behind the England and Wales contact tracing app has been asked to adjust the measures that trigger the alerts, a source confirmed. The timing of the change is not yet known.

The reason for this change seems to be more political than scientific. All or most COVID-19 restrictions are expected to end in England on July 19 (subject to confirmation tonight), and by that time, many more people would be alerted.

Businesses and individuals have raised concerns that too many people were advised to self-isolate for up to 10 days, following close contact with a device that then reported a result positive Covid test.

The rationale for ending containment is the high rate of double vaccination in the country. As of August 16, anyone who has received both doses of the vaccine will no longer be asked to self-isolate, so the application change is designed to cover the month between the end of the lockdown and the entry into force of the new one. Politics.

The Leader of the Opposition criticized this decision.

Labor leader Sir Kier Starmer has expressed concerns about the changes as the number of cases increases. “It is like taking the batteries out of the smoke detector and it’s never a good idea,” he said.

Photo: Engin Akyurt / Unsplash

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