Scotland developing its own contact-tracing app

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Scotland is developing its own coronavirus contact-tracing app, which it hopes to have ready for use in the autumn.

It follows the failure of an NHS-branded app in England, which was trialled on the Isle of Wight.

On Thursday, Northern Ireland became the first part of the UK to deploy a contact-tracing app.

Both Scotland and Northern Ireland decided to adapt software already being used in the Republic of Ireland.

Contact-tracing apps are designed to help prevent a second wave of the coronavirus.

They work by logging when two people have been in close proximity to each other for a substantial period of time.

If one of the users is later diagnosed as having the disease, an alert can be sent to others they have recently been close to, telling them that they should also get tested and/or self-isolate.

In May, Apple and Google updated their mobile phone operating systems to include a framework for contact tracing.

It carries the process out on the handsets themselves, making it more difficult for the authorities or potentially hackers to de-anonymise the records and use them for other means.

However, it means governments and epidemiologists also cannot access the data centrally to analyse it.

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Media captionWATCH: What is contact tracing and how does it work?

England initially opted to design a centralised contact-tracing app, despite the Apple-Google framework being more widely supported by European countries.

In June, after a trial on the Isle of Wight which highlighted significant shortcomings, England said it would switch to the Apple-Google model.

Since Scotland is adapting the Republic of Ireland app, which uses the Apple-Google framework, it will also be compatible with the apps used Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.

Scotland’s Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said existing manual contact tracing would continue to be used alongside the app.

“We also know that not everyone uses a mobile phone or will be able to access the app, which is why this software is very much there to complement existing contact-tracing methods,” she said.

Scotland’s app will be developed by Nearform, which worked on the Republic of Ireland’s contact-tracing app.


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