NEWS14 August 2020

Covid-19 app trial begins amid testing data concerns

Covid-19 Data analytics Innovations News Privacy Public Sector UK

UK – The UK government has begun testing a new decentralised contact tracing app in England, while there are concerns over government testing data after 1.3m tests in official figures were deemed to have been double-counted.

Covid contact tracing app nhs_cop

The app has been developed with Google and Apple, as well as the Alan Turing Institute, medical experts, privacy groups, at-risk communities and teams in other countries with functioning tracing apps, such as Germany.

Anyone who downloads the app will be alerted if they spend time near anyone who later tests positive for Covid-19, and users will be able to book a free test.

The new app will generate a random ID for an individual’s device, which can be exchanged between devices to monitor the spread of the virus while “rotating frequently to prevent tracking”, the government said.

The app is now being tested in the Isle of Wight and among NHS volunteer responders, and will also soon be trialled in the London borough of Newham. The app will be for England, with other UK nations developing or using their own apps.

A previous centralised version of the app, which was also tested on the Isle of Wight, was abandoned earlier this year.

Speaking about the launch of the new app, Dido Harding, executive chair of the NHS Test and Trace Programme, said: “There is no silver bullet when it comes to tackling coronavirus. The app is a great step forward and will complement all of the work we are doing with local areas across the country to reach more people in their communities and work towards our vision of helping more people get back to the most normal life possible at the lowest risk.”

The government has also confirmed that more than 1.3m tests have been removed from the ‘tests made available’ tally after concerns of double counting.

The issue relates to its ‘pillar two’ testing category, which covers swab tests for the general population carried out by private companies.

“The adjustments have been made as a result of more accurate data collection and reporting processes recently being adopted within pillar 2 and a subsequent recalibration of the data we reported between 29 March 2020 and 11 August 2020,” said a notice on the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) website.

“These new data processed identified tests that had previously not been readily identifiable at the labs processing stage, and tests that had been sent out by a testing channel on behalf of another channel.

“This resulted in a double-counting of test kits that had been dispatched and which had not been removed from the labs processed data.”