how will the UK’s test, track and trace plan help ease lockdown

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a new Covid Alert System set-up, to be developed by a new Joint Biosecurity Centre.

The Covid Alert Level will work on a scale of one to five – a measurement system to be used in conjunction with track and trace measures such as the new NHS contact tracing app.

An NHS version of a contact tracing app is being trialed on the Isle of Wight after the Telegraph revealed the plans in April, but just 40 per cent of the population of the island have downloaded the app so far.

The contact tracing app has been billed as a key to easing social distancing measures, helping to pinpoint those who need to be in quarantine and alert people who have been in “significant contact” with those who have tested positive.

It is expected to be fully rolled out across the UK later this month. However, it has emerged that the NHS has tasked a private company to “investigate” if it can switch its contact-tracing app over to the global standard proposed by Apple and Google amid concerns over glitches and incompatibility – just days after the UK’s version launched.

Countries around the world are rushing to launch contact tracing apps to identify who an infected person has had contact with, as part of efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

From teams of “corona detectives”, to Army cadets making thousands of calls a day, here are some of the ways countries are tracing the spread of Covid-19. 

What is contact tracing?

Contact tracing is a method of preventing the spread of a disease. Health workers interview people who have been diagnosed with coronavirus and work out who they might have recently been in contact with.

They put together a timeline and network of contacts, telling other people who might have been exposed to the infected person to quarantine themselves.

The Government’s test, track and trace regime will be in place by the ‘start of June’, Michael Gove has pledged, as he said over 17,000 contact tracers have now been recruited.

What are the UK’s plans?

The UK has launched the new Covid Alert Level system, which will signify different levels of risk posed by the virus as the outbreak continues.

The new threat scale will keep the public informed about the level of threat that the virus poses, with England currently at Level Four but expected to gradually move to Level Three.

Level Three signifies that the number of new infections is not increasing significantly, and that the ‘R number’ – reproduction rate – of the virus is below one. This will still entail lockdown measures, but with considerable relaxations of the current restrictions which have constituted the Government’s response to the virus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We must have a world-beating system for testing potential victims, and for tracing their contacts.”

Contact tracing will be rolled out on a national basis through the use of the ‘NHSX’ contact tracing app, which notifies people who have been in “significant contact” with those who have tested positive for the disease.

It works by using Bluetooth signals to detect when two phones come close to each other, and anyone who becomes unwell with coronavirus symptoms can notify the app, which then informs other users.

What has the first contact tracing trial looked like?

The UK’s contact tracing app went live for NHS staff on the Isle of Wight.

All of the 80,000 households on the island will get a letter from the chief nurse with comprehensive information about the trial, and asking them to install the app. 

Mr Hancock said: “If you’re watching this and you live on the Isle of Wight, I have a simple message: please, download the app to protect the NHS and save lives.

“By downloading the app you are protecting your own health, the health of your loved ones, and the health of your community.”

But Professor Christophe Fraser, leading the Oxford University team developing it, has warned that 60 per cent of Britons will need to download it for it to be successful.

Fears have been raised by MPs about the potential take-up of the scheme, with David Davis citing “security concerns” over the storage of data.

The former Brexit secretary told the Telegraph: “A lot of people don’t like the idea of being tracked. The more intrusive the app is, the smaller the take-up will be.”

And security researchers have uncovered what they described as a series of security flaws in the NHS app that they said could put users’ privacy at risk and prevent self-isolate alerts being sent out.