QR-code based contact-tracing app brings 'defining moment' for UK’s 'world beating' test and trace system

Remember when The Reg told you in 2012 that they were taking over?


A UK government desperate for good news in the face escalating cases of COVID-19 has finally announced a launch date for its contact-tracing app, once said to be the "cornerstone" of Blighty's pandemic response.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the new smartphone-based app would be available from September 24 for England and Wales, and will use QR codes to “provide an easy and simple way to collect contact details to support the NHS Test and Trace system.” Scotland already has its own app, we note, as does Northern Ireland.

The Register said that QR codes would be a feature of the app back in August.

The idea is pubs, restaurants, cafes and other venues will download posters for their premises ahead of the launch of the NHS COVID-19 app in England and its neighbor, allowing the public to “seamlessly check in to venues using the app.” The government has been encouraging businesses that already have their own QR system to switch to the NHS Test and Trace QR code.

“We need to use every tool at our disposal to control the spread of the virus, including cutting-edge technology. The launch of the app later this month across England and Wales is a defining moment and will aid our ability to contain the virus at a critical time,” Hancock said.

The time is indeed critical. Since Britain began to emerge from its pandemic lockdown, cases of the virus have been climbing. On Sunday, the UK reported 2,988 new cases of coronavirus – the highest in a single day since 22 May. On Friday the official R, or reproduction, number was measured at between 1 and 1.2, compared with 0.9 to 1.1 last week. The government on Friday announced new lock-down measure for Birmingham, the UK’s second-largest city.

Ireland and Great Britain map, image via Shutterstock

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So: cometh the hour, cometh the QR code.

“The QR system is a free, easy and privacy-preserving way to check-in customers to venues, and we encourage all businesses to get involved and download and display the official NHS QR code posters,” explained managing director of the NHS COVID-19 app Simon Thompson.

Not only are businesses being encouraged to display the QR posters, but universities, hospitals, leisure premises, civic centres and libraries should also do the same, the government said.

The official announcement made no mention of implementing Apple and Google's method of detecting other smartphones to help contact tracing, but the BBC has reported the app will exploit the feature.

In June, the UK abandoned its efforts to create its own app based on a central database, after criticism it lacked true user anonymity, was riddled with bugs, and was open to abuse during a trial on the Isle of Wight.

The contact-tracing app, once said by ministers to be “key” to the UK’s test and trace system, could not be expected before the winter, Lord Bethell, Minister for Innovation at the Department for Health and Social Care, told the Science and Technology Committee in June. Prime Minister Boris Johnson had told public it would be part of the “world beating” system by the summer.

QR Codes? Well we did warn you just, er, eight years ago that they'd be everywhere soon. ®


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