The new mobile contact tracking app to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 could “potentially” avoid the need for future locks, but only if a large number of people download it.
top Covid NI will be launched late next week once it has been made available in the Google and Apple app stores, and is described as a “world first” in terms of how the app can operate across borders by one of its designers.
The proximity app anonymously alerts users if they have been in close contact with another user who has tested positive for the virus.
Via Bluetooth, the app exchanges unidentifiable numbers with other smartphones, so it can track who has been in contact with whom – something smartphones are already doing.
Users do not have to enter any personal information, and if someone has received a positive Covid-19 test, it is solely up to them whether they want to enter it in the app.
If you were in close contact with someone who later enters their unique positive test code, you will receive a notification that you have been in close contact with that person and you will be advised on what to do.
Northern Ireland will be the first part of the UK with a contact tracking app, while the Republic of Ireland launched the app earlier this month. Both apps are designed by Co Waterford’s NearForm company.
Stephen Shaw of Big Motive, the company that designed the app, told the Belfast Telegraph that there is a “real concern” among those involved in the development that the general public may not be aware of the usefulness of the contact tracing service.
“You are talking about preventing possible future blockades,” he said. All the code, information and everything about the app is open source and public.
Anyone who is concerned about following it can access everything about the app and see and check if the app is doing anything unusual.
“The Information Commissioner’s agency went through everything. The UK’s upper echelons have also scrutinized all its elements.
“People can really trust that it doesn’t do anything untrustworthy.”
The app is compatible with the contact tracking service available in the Republic of Ireland and is expected to work with the app made by the NHS in Great Britain.
Mr. Shaw explains that this is due to a federated server currently being developed for the app.
With this server, the app can also work with other European countries that have a tracking service in the same format, which is what Mr. Shaw called a “world first”.
When asked why Northern Ireland is the first country in the UK to launch the app, Mr. Shaw praised the work of Dan West, the Department of Health’s Chief Digital Information Officer (DoH), and the product manager of the app , Dr. Eddie O’Neill.
“Dan West is leading the project and he is super dynamic and extremely good at bringing together all the different aspects such as the DoH and the Public Health Agency,” he said.
“Together with Dr. Eddie O’Neill, the two seem to have a great grasp of the subtleties of what technology to use. The two played an important role. “
Meanwhile, Health Minister Robin Swann has asked his cross-border counterpart to consider new data sharing laws and agreements to help track international travelers arriving on the island.
Mr Swann wrote to Stephen Donnelly and expressed concern about the “inability” of both jurisdictions to record and share information about passengers traveling from one part of the island to another.
In the letter, Mr Swann told Mr Donnelly that his officials experienced “serious obstacles” in the surveillance of travelers crossing the border after landing in the Irish Republic from a high-risk country.
Such passengers must isolate themselves in Northern Ireland for 14 days.
Mr Swann said the system depended on people completing a passenger finder form within 48 hours of entering Ireland.
He said if they didn’t fill out those forms, the authorities north of the border couldn’t trace them.