NI Covid-19 contact-tracing phone app to be launched next week

Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 contact-tracing mobile phone app will be launched next week.

It will be called Stop Covid NI and will be aimed at interrupting the spread of coronavirus by finding those most at risk of catching it.

Should someone receive a positive test for the disease, they will have a unique code texted to the phone.

Once the user gives permissions, the app will release data from the handset to a server so close contacts also using the app can be traced following a “digital handshake” between their devices, Stormont’s health department said.

The intention is to alert close contacts of a patient within a day or two of a positive test.

The software’s use will be voluntary and identifiable information will not be stored to comply with data protection regulations, an official told the health committee of Assembly members.

The operating system is designed by Google and Apple and its use will require Bluetooth to remain on.

Health Department official Dan West said: “We are going to do a general launch of the app next week and intend to follow up with specific guidance to employers.”

Wednesday July 29 would be the earliest launch date, he said.

Those promoting the app will engage with major employers including the health service, universities and Royal Mail.

Mr West added: “We can seek support from those organisations to help us promote downloading and usage of the app.”

There is interoperability with the Republic of Ireland’s version, where a total of 1.4 million people have already installed the app, Mr West said.

The version being developed for Great Britain will also be able to share data across the Common Travel Area (CTA) between Ireland and the UK including Northern Ireland.

The cost of building and operating it in Northern Ireland will be less than £1 million, Mr West said.

It will be limited to adults pending further discussions with young people’s advocates in Northern Ireland including the Children’s Commissioner.

This is due to issues surrounding the ability to grant consents and regulations on sharing data.

Stormont ministers cleared the app’s launch during a meeting on Thursday.

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