NHS COVID-19 APP: How, when and where it works

NHS COVID-19 APP: Everything YOU need to know about how, when and where it works

Sponsored by UK Government

We reveal everything you need to know about th NHS Covid-19 app

In England and Wales, more than 16 million people – 43 per cent of smartphone users – have downloaded the NHS Covid-19 app. 

Hear from the experts why having this safe, secure and effective digital tracing system can help you protect your loved ones.


 Prof Christophe Fraser, University of Oxford

As a professor of pathogen dynamics at Nuffield Department of Medicine, Professor Christophe Fraser has been an independent advisor on the epidemiology of coronavirus throughout app production. 

He answers the important technical questions about the NHS Covid-19 app.

What difference will it make if just one more person downloads the app?

‘The more people who use it, the more effective it will be. My son has just gone to university, a scenario where we’re seeing quite explosive outbreaks. Each person who downloads the app has the potential to stop it spreading to another.’

How successful has digital contact tracing been in other countries?

‘Countries such as Germany and New Zealand were able to keep mortality low throughout the first wave, and with a combination of the app and manual contact tracing they are now controlling the epidemic.’

How accurately can it measure your distance from someone?

‘The app has been extensively tested. It was developed with Google and Apple engineers, and leading scientists who really focused on getting the measurements right, so you won’t get a notification from a person walking down the street, just extended close contact.’

Why should we use the in-built QR reader in restaurants and pubs?

‘It’s a legal obligation to sign in at certain venues in some form. The in-app QR reader makes it more convenient and it is completely anonymous. It helps us all to maintain some normality while we control the virus.’

If I get an alert, am I breaking the law by leaving the house?

‘The privacy of this app is such that it cannot enforce self-isolation because it does not know who or where you are. However, the only other choice to slow the spread is local or national lockdowns, which are indiscriminate and unfair. When you receive a request to self-isolate, you’re doing your bit.’

If you delete the app, where does the data go?

‘You can delete the app at any time with the option to clear the data used or individual venues you checked into. You will no longer receive alerts and no other apps will be able to access previous data.’


Dr Amir Khan, TV doctor

Dr Amir Khan, a resident GP on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, has seen first-hand how the NHS Covid-19 app can help protect patients and health workers. 

He explains why anyone with a smartphone should download it.

Who is the app for and who will it help?

‘The app is for anyone aged over 16 in England and Wales with a smartphone. Like most people, I was nervous about using it at first, but we all need to get on board with controlling the spread of the virus. The best way to do that is by knowing where the outbreaks are to avoid passing it on.’

How much do you use the app yourself?

‘I live in Leeds and work in Bradford, both of which are on local restrictions, so I find the app useful for checking the level of risk nearby. I’ve used the QR code poster to check into places, because it’s easy for me to know if I’ve been around someone with coronavirus.’

If the app uses Bluetooth technology, won’t it drain phone battery? ‘I am always on the phone talking to people, so this worried me, too. However, the app uses low-power technology so it won’t affect battery life.’

What makes you think this app will make a difference?

‘It’s already working for me: one of my colleagues at the surgery was recently notified to self-isolate via the app, which meant we could quickly amend her rota and ensure she could work from home instead. By using the app, not only did she protect her colleagues but her patients, too.’

So, if you have the app and use it correctly, do you still need to socially distance?

‘Yes. The app is just one very important part of controlling the spread. We still need to distance from people outside our household, wash our hands regularly for 20 seconds, wear a mask where appropriate and, once we have the app, really take those notifications seriously, and book a test if you develop coronavirus symptoms

What if app notifications suddenly disappear?

‘Don’t worry, important messages from the NHS Covid-19 app will always be visible to you when you open the app. It doesn’t matter if you miss the notification.’


Dr David Bonsall, clinician

Researcher Dr David Bonsall has been at the forefront of the NHS Covid-19 app development thanks to his extensive research into tracking the rate of virus transmission in the UK. 

He explains the science behind the new digital contact tracing tool.

What was your involvement with the app?

‘Very early on, we discovered that the virus was being transmitted from a significant number of people who didn’t know they were infected. If you wait for symptoms to develop, often you’re too late. The tool used to identify people who don’t know they’re infected is contact tracing – it has been for two centuries.’

What are the benefits of digital contact tracing?

‘If you have a process that’s too slow, smartphones can make it more efficient, in the same way they do for ordering pizzas and taxis. By catching people faster than the virus spreads, we save lives.’

So, how does the app work?

‘The app uses Bluetooth technology on your phone to send out random codes to other devices. They are like signatures that identify users who have tested positive for coronavirus, which is when you get notified.’

How does the app protect our data from being shared?

‘It notifies people without recording any sensitive information about them or holding it on a centralised database. It doesn’t take your name, date of birth or contact details, just the first half of your postcode (which we share with approximately 8,000 other people). Put simply, there is no data that can be sold or used for nefarious purposes.’

How can we be sure our movements aren’t being tracked?

‘The app doesn’t use GPS – it won’t know where you’ve been or who with. The system itself is infinitely more private than many of the apps we use day-to-day. The code is completely open source and has been thoroughly evaluated by independent cryptographers.’

What evidence is there that this app will work?

‘When we trialled the first version on the Isle of Wight, they were in the top five per cent of worst epidemics in the country. Within two weeks, it had been suppressed. The manual system, which was rolled out at the same time, reached 160 infected people compared to 1,188 people notified using the app*.’

*Source: telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/07/15/isle-wight-test-trace-app-trial-saw-significant-decrease-coronavirus 

How the NHS Covid-19 app helps YOU help others 

CHECK SYMPTOMS: Using the handy symptoms checker, you can quickly and easily identify whether you have any signs of coronavirus.

KNOW YOUR AREA: The app informs you of the coronavirus risk level in your local area based on the first part of your postcode.

CHECK IN: When you check into venues using the app’s clever QR scanner, you are helping to track the spread in public places.

RECEIVE ALERTS: The app is always scanning for fellow users who have tested positive. As soon as it detects contact for longer than 15 minutes within two metres, you will be alerted.

BOOK A TEST: If you are displaying coronavirus symptoms, the app helps you book a free test and receive results and advice.

MANAGE TEST RESULTS: If you test positive, the app will anonymously alert other users whom you have been close to so they can self-isolate and protect others, too.

READ ADVICE: Get the latest UK Government advice about how to protect yourself and others from coronavirus.

To download the NHS Covid-19 app, visit Apple App Store or Google Play. Learn more at covid19.nhs.uk


This is UK Government information for readers in England only

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