The NHS is scrapping the current version of its delayed coronavirus track and trace app, switching to a platform developed by Apple and Google.
In a major U-turn, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to set out plans for the new model this afternoon, which ministers have long claimed will be crucial in catching Covid-19 cases earlier and preventing a second peak.
The current centralised version developed by the NHS will now be merged into the ‘decentralised’ Google-Apple model, revealed the BBC, following a series of delays. It is understood a decentralised model makes it more difficult for officials or hackers to use a person’s data entered into the app for other causes.
The new technology is said to have tighter privacy controls but this means that epidemiologists will also have less access to data, according to reports.
It remains unclear whether any system which mainly relies on Bluetooth signals will be efficient enough to produce accurate results. However, Apple and Google believe Bluetooth connectivity is more accurate and will allow more individuals to take part in their trace system.
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NHS officials had remained firm that they would not use Google and Apple’s tracing systems, preferring to stick with its own model.
Mr Hancock previously said that the app would be rolled out in mid-May but it has faced numerous delays in getting off the ground, after it failed security tests in early May.
This morning it was revealed that ministers believe the app may not be ready until winter. It is not clear whether this time frame is referring to the new model.
It comes as almost three-quarters of people who test positive for coronavirus and enter the NHS tracking system are now being traced, new figures show.
Some 14,045 people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England had their case transferred to the NHS Test and Trace contact tracing system during the first two weeks of its operation, according to the figures.
Of these, 10,192 people (73 per cent) were reached and asked to provide details of recent contacts. Some 3,435 (25 per cent) people were not reached and a further 418 (3%) did not provide contact details.
Contact tracing uses smartphones to automatically detect when people come into close proximity to others that have had the virus and notify them.
The devices pick up when two people are within a certain distance of each other for longer than a specified amount of time.
This then allows contact tracers to tell the person if they need to self-isolate.
The NHS app has been using a ‘centralised’ approach that uses a central server to work out who to send alerts to if social distancing has been breached.
But Google and Apple’s model uses a ‘decentralised’ approach where the process is carried out on the mobile handset itself.
Italy, Germany and Denmark, among other countries, have taken up a decentralised approach to their contact tracing efforts.
Germany’s version of the app to trace coronavirus has been downloaded more six million times within a day of launching.
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