More than one million people have downloaded the government's contact-tracing app for England and Wales within its first day of release. NHS Covid-19 instructs users to self-isolate for 14 days if it detects they were nearby someone who has the virus. 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 it. The government plans to give its own download tally on Monday.
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. And there was some confusion about whether users could ignore a notification telling them to stay at home. Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast: "That self-isolation is voluntary, unlike the mandatory self-isolation if you are called by NHS Test and Trace." But the Department of Health had earlier said that users must obey the command and would in theory be liable for fines of £1,000 or more if they did not, while acknowledging it had no way to check. A senior source has since told the BBC that the notification is "advisory" because the authorities cannot legally enforce something that cannot be proved.
How to use England and Wales' contact-tracing app
The decision to allow those 16 and over to download the app is a change from trials, which were limited to the over-18s. The move reflects a desire by health chiefs for the software to be used by as many students in further education colleges and universities as possible. The age limit is in line with the Protect Scotland contact-tracing app. And health chiefs behind Northern Ireland's StopCOVID NI have said they intend to launch a new version that accepts under-18s later this month. The launch comes as the UK reported 6,178 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, up 1,252 since Tuesday, and 37 deaths. The government had originally intended to release the app months ago. But problems with the initial design and the addition of extra features meant it was only ready for its final public test in August. One tech expert who has tracked the initiative acknowledged the team involved had worked hard to address concerns about privacy and transparency, but said wider problems could still limit its impact. "Not only is the app late to launch, but it will be hindered by the delays in the testing system," Rachel Coldicutt told the BBC. "If you don't have symptoms, will a push notification saying you were near someone a week ago make you and your family self-isolate and spend days hitting refresh on the testing website, trying to find a test?"
Although the app allows users to order a coronavirus test and automatically get the results, the government does not believe it will complicate efforts to meet demand. How can people access the app? The app is available for smartphones only - not tablets, smartwatches or other devices.
To get started, go to Android's Google Play or Apple's App Store and search for "NHS Covid-19".
The handsets must have Android 6.0 (released in 2015) or iOS 13.5 (released in May 2020) and Bluetooth 4.0 or higher. That excludes the iPhone 6 and older versions of Apple's handsets.