NHS Covid-19 app: why are there delays?

24 June 2020, 19:10

By Fiona Jones

Virologist Dr Chris Smith explained to Eddie Mair why there have been multiple delays in launching the NHS app.

The Prime Minister has refused to give a launch date for the UK's coronavirus tracing app after previous targets for rolling it out were repeatedly missed.

When questioned by Sir Keir Starmer in Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions, Boris Johnson responded that there are no countries who have functioning Track & Trace apps.

READ MORE: LBC fact-check: Do any countries have a functioning Covid-19 tracking app?

Virologist and host of Naked Scientists Dr Chris Smith told LBC why there have been a "number of problems" with the development of the NHS app.

"One of them has been the intransigence of the companies who are responsible for building the platforms on which these phones actually run," he said.

He explained the app would assist the test and trace system in public spaces; if a person became ill on the bus they would inform the NHS test and trace system but would not, naturally, know the contact details of all others on the bus who may be susceptible.

The app would prevent adjacent strangers from being lost to contact tracers: "Bluetooth on the app can wirelessly and invisibly handshake between everyone's device and log their contact so if one of us did get diagnosed we would then be able to contact other individuals."

He countered, "The issue though is the Bluetooth is consuming huge amounts of power and it's not possible on the majority of iPhones to make the device wake up when it gets a Bluetooth ping to then log the contact. There is a low power Bluetooth that can do that but the manufacturer does not seem to want to cooperate and make that system available."

Dr Chris Smith highlighted that Bluetooth is also a radio wave and will go through walls, meaning people sitting either side of a wall will get an infection notification despite the virus being entirely unable to penetrate the barrier.

Optimistically, some people are suggesting ultrasound - high wave frequencies that only phones can detect - which will not penetrate walls and may give a more realistic analysis of each persons' contact, he said.