The Sunday Telegraph

NHS Covid app could still be in use in 2022

- By Matthew Field

BRITAIN’S digital contact-tracing app is expected to be needed until spring 2022, according to the terms of a contract drawn up between the Health Secretary and its developers.

The NHS Covid-19 App, which uses Bluetooth to detect “close contacts” between two smartphone­s, was launched in September last year as a way of speeding up manual contacttra­cing of coronaviru­s cases.

The contract is the clearest signal that the use of digital contact-tracing is set to continue long after the vast majority of the UK population has been vaccinated twice.

According to a contract between the Department of Health and Zühlke Engineerin­g, the Swiss company that develops and maintains the app, Zühlke will keep the app running until at least September this year for a fee of £10.2m.

But the contract gives the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, the right to extend work on the app at short notice for up to six further months, until March 2022. The contract also stipulates that Zühlke must support the scaling of the app to up to 50 million downloads, more than double the number of users it currently has.

The app has been downloaded more than 24.5 million times, according to the Department of Health.

According to a peer-reviewed study in the journal Nature, whose authors included Oxford’s Christophe Fraser, who helped develop the app, the UK’s NHS Covid-19 app helped prevent thousands of deaths. The study found an estimated 1.7million “exposure notificati­ons” were sent to warn users they had come into contact with someone who later reported coronaviru­s symptoms.

The app measures a close exposure between people using Bluetooth signals from their phones. It can then warn them remotely and anonymousl­y if they have been in contact with someone, even if they are a stranger.

The paper estimated 284,000 to 594,000 people avoided catching coronaviru­s as a result, which translated to 4,200 or 8,700 deaths being avoided.

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