Released just as Britain is imposing new restrictions in response to a surge of cases, the app, called “NHS Covid-19,” uses technology created by Apple and Google to anonymously log when a person comes into close contact with another user of the app. If a person tests positive for the coronavirus, the app sends an alert to those they have come into contact with to get tested and quarantine.
The app, now available in Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play store, also has a way for people to “check in” at restaurants, bars and other locations they visit by scanning a bar code, another measure to help track down individuals who have been exposed to the virus.
The release of the app follows various delays and challenges. The government had initially vowed to build an app without help from Apple or Google, saying it would offer more flexibility to track the spread of the virus. But after confronting technical challenges, the government reversed course. The switch delayed the release of the app, which at one point had been slated to be introduced in May. The app was released in England and Wales; similar technology had already been released in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Some older phones are not able to handle the new app, which requires version iOS 13.5 or later for an iPhone and version 6 or later for Android.
The effectiveness of the app will in part depend on how many people use it. Without wide adoption, its usefulness is more limited. The technology could also test the government’s overall track-and-trace system, which has been riddled with problems.
“Everybody who downloads the app will be helping to protect themselves, helping to protect their loved ones, helping to protect their community because the more people who download it, the more effective it will be,” Matt Hancock, the country’s health secretary, told the BBC.
Also on Thursday, Britain’s top financial official, Rishi Sunak, announced a range of new and extended measures to protect jobs and help businesses, including another government wage-paying program, just days after the prime minister, Boris Johnson, set new social restrictions that he warned could last for months.
Reporting was contributed by Matt Apuzzo, Pam Belluck, Aurelien Breeden, Ben Casselman, Choe Sang-Hun, Melissa Eddy, Farnaz Fassihi, Michael Gold, Maggie Haberman, Christine Hauser, Mike Ives, Miriam Jordan, Isabel Kershner, Gina Kolata, Mark Landler, Apoorva Mandavilli, Jeffery C. Mays, Jesse McKinley, Sarah Mervosh, Raphael Minder, Christina Morales, Eshe Nelson, Benjamin Novak, Richard C. Paddock, Azi Paybarah, Elian Peltier, Daniel Politi, Monika Pronczuk, Roni Caryn Rabin, Saw Nang, Simon Romero, Adam Satariano, Anna Schaverien, Christopher F. Schuetze, Dera Menra Sijabat, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Eileen Sullivan, Sui-Lee Wee, Sameer Yasir and Elaine Yu.