Millions of Britons will be encouraged to download the mobile tracing app which is finally being launched nationwide today, four months late.
Health officials hope it will play a vital role in containing the virus at a critical point when cases are on the rise again, but the app is likely to create even more demands for tests at a time when labs are already under tremendous pressure and thousands of patients have been unable to book slots.
The Department of Health will launch a major TV advertising drive to increase uptake by urging the public to protect their loved ones and get the app, and officials hope that between 15 and 50 per cent of the population in England and Wales will use it.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have already launched their own versions.
The app uses Bluetooth technology to warn users if they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus such as on public transport, in a shop or among their friends and family.
They will then receive a message telling them to self-isolate for 14 days and book a test, although only if they develop symptoms. The device will also allow users to check their symptoms online if they’re worried they might have the virus and to book a test if necessary.
Also, they will be encouraged to use their apps to scan the QR code at any pub, restaurant or leisure centres they visit in case there’s a virus outbreak related to that venue. Their contact details will then be accessible for tracing efforts.
The app, which uses a system developed by Apple and Google, has been tested on the Isle of Wight and in the London borough of Newham.
The app was meant to have been launched in the middle of May but Health Secretary Matt Hancock was forced to ditch the technology after it failed to work on the majority of smartphones.
Yesterday Matt Hancock said that they were at a tipping point in their efforts to control the spread of the virus and that with infection rates increasing they must use every means at their disposal to stop transmission, including the latest technology.
He said that today’s launch marks an important step forward in their fight against this invisible killer and he urged everyone who could download and use the app to protect themselves and their loved ones.
But what use is this app if as few as 15 per cent and no more than 50 per cent will use it?
The more the general population is tested the more positives will show up and the more stringent containment measures will become, irrespective of hospital admissions and deaths.
Testing by GP’s, in hospitals and in care homes regularly is the key and let the elderly and those with co-morbid conditions shield with whatever support is necessary, but let the rest of the population go free because we’re in danger of creating a tsunami of Munchausen that will overwhelm testing facilities.
For the worried and hypochondriacs, a positive test will end up being the badge of the ‘in’ thing to have, but to no good end. And seeing as we’re about to be given the annual round of flu jabs, why can’t GP surgeries test for the virus at the same time, if necessary?