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Wed, 20 January 2021

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Ministers hope NHS app can help lift lockdown by tracking coronavirus infections

Ministers hope NHS app can help lift lockdown by tracking coronavirus infections

Ministers hope the app could prove useful in reducing the spread on infection

3 min read

Ministers have pinned their hopes of easing lockdown restrictions on a new NHS app which can track coronavirus infections.

Officials hope the app, which would alert users if they had come into close contact with an infected person, could prove a key step in their plans to ease lockdown restrictions in the coming months.

The Sunday Times reports NHSX, the health service's technology team, has been working with tech firms at "breakneck speed" on the software which would use Bluetooth technology to track users and help prioritise testing for those who had potentially been exposed to Covid-19.

"Public confidence will only be retained in the longer term if the right controls and accountability are in place" - former MI5 head Lord Evans

Ministers hope the app, alongside their pledge to boost testing to 100,000 per day, could help reduce the spread of infection while also allowing them to ease off on the stricter elements of the social distancing rules.

One Whitehall source told the paper: "We believe this could be important in helping the country return to normality."

Details of the new scheme come after Downing Street repeatedly refused to say whether they were already using mobile phone data to track footfall in public places ahead of an expected decision on whether to continue lockdown measures beyond next week.

But experts say the so-called "track and trace" technology would only prove useful if 60% of the public install it, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock reportedly considering allowing those who download the app to return to work in a bid to incentivise its use.

It comes as a new poll found 89% of the public believe the government's advice on social distancing is clear and easy to understand.

The OBR international poll for the Sunday Telegraph also showed that 68% of people were supportive of the government's approach to the crisis, but in a worrying sign of the strain of the lockdown measures, a third (33%) said someone in their household was struggling mentally with the restrictions.

And the poll also found that 44% of households had seen a decrease in their income as the economic impact of the coronavirus continues to worsen.

Meanwhile, Lord Evans, the former head of MI5, warned the public would only remain supportive of the government's approach if they remained "accountable" for their actions, warning the proposed NHS app would be a "severe intrusion into personal privacy".

Writing in the Sunday Times, he added: "People may consider the kind of surveillance needed to keep Covid-19 at bay a price worth paying, but public confidence will only be retained in the longer term if the right controls and accountability are in place."

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