The UK government will now use Apple’s contact tracing API to build a new app to combat the spread of coronavirus after announcing a surprising U-turn from its previous decision to create a “centralised” system.
On Thursday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that the UK will be working with the framework created by Apple and Google with the view to rolling out an app in the autumn.
The UK had intended to use its own coronavirus tracing app, but the release date for the system had been pushed back following trials in the Isle of Wight last month.
Hancock previously stated that the app would be ready for mid-May, but a number of “specific technical issues” prevented it from going live on time.
The UK is not the only country to backtrack on its intentions to use a decentralised framework, which involves the use of a state-controlled server for data.
Germany, Denmark and Italy have all started using Apple and Google’s tech in recent weeks.
The centralised approach addresses privacy and security concerns inherent to centralisation by processing data on smartphones.
“This is a welcome, if a heavily and unnecessarily delayed, move,” DP3T Group’s Dr Michael Veale said.
He added: “The Google-Apple system in a way is home-grown: originating with research at a large consortium of universities led by Switzerland and including UCL in the UK.”
Countries around the world are trying to get contact tracing apps up and running to try to prevent or delay a second wave of infections.
The new system, if adopted fully by the UK, will use Bluetooth to track the movements and people and send updates to those who have come into contact with symptoms of COVID-19.
Baroness Dido Harding, head of the UK’s wider Test and Trace programme, will now look at the new tech with a view to greenlighting its use in the coming days.
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