Northern Ireland has released its contact-tracing app – the first country in the UK to roll-out the technology.
The app, StopCOVID NI, uses Bluetooth technology to notify users if they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.
Those who test positive will be sent a code by SMS, which can then be put into the app. Users will then be asked to share the random IDs their phone has been swapping with other app users over the last 14 days.
Once a user agrees, these ‘diagnosis keys’ will allow the app to tell those people that they have been exposed to Covid-19.
Northern Ireland health minister Robin Swann urged the public to download the app, which uses the exposure notification APIs developed by Apple and Google.
“Deploying this world leading technology can prove a major factor in helping our efforts to curb Covid-19 and prevent its spread. Its potential to be a game changer will, however, be totally dependent on the support of the Northern Ireland public,” he said.
“The more of us in Northern Ireland that are using the app, the more effective it will be in preventing the spread of Covid-19.”
Since its release on 30 July, the app was listed as the number one medical app in the App Store with a total of 50,000 downloads in the first 24 hours.
It was developed by the Northern Ireland Department of Health, alongside Belfast based design consultants Big Motive; software developers NearForm; quality services consultancy Expleo; and other government bodies.
The app was created using a human-centred design approach, according to a statement from Big Motive. At the earliest stage possible, prototypes of the app were designed and tested with the public with feedback informing the development of the tool.
It is interoperable with the app already in use in the Republic of Ireland to allow for easier travel. The Northern Ireland Department of Health expects it to be compatible with future apps introduced in the UK and Europe.
Dan West, the department’s chief digital information officer, said: “The StopCOVID NI proximity app is a good example of how we can use digital technologies to deliver better outcomes and improve citizen experience.
“We have more of this planned, as well as investment in technology in how HSC staff go about their jobs and share information with patients.”
Last month the code for the Republic of Ireland’s Covid Tracker app was published as part of an open source programme to help global public health authorities tackle the pandemic.
England’s contact-tracing app
NHSX announced in March that it was working on a contact-tracing app to help control the spread of the virus.
The organisation faced fierce criticism for its decision to develop a centralised system, differing from tech giants Apple and Google who teamed up to developed decentralised contact-tracing technology.
In June, after several revised roll-out dates, the government abandoned its model in favour of Apple and Google’s tech. At the time it had spent £11.8m developing the app.
No date for the national roll-out for the app has been confirmed, but ministers have suggested it is “not a priority” and may not be ready until the winter. You can read more about the NHS contact-tracing app timeline here.
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