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In context: Protect Scotland app

Steve Parsons/PA Wire/PA Images

In context: Protect Scotland app

NHS Scotland has launched its new proximity tracing app to help tackle the spread of COVID-19. People with smartphones are being urged to download Protect Scotland as soon as possible to help boost the Test and Protect system.

So, what exactly is it?

The Protect Scotland app is a mobile phone app designed to help reduce the spread of coronavirus and avoid further lockdowns. It works by alerting users if they have been in close contact with another app user who tests positive for coronavirus. And if they then also test positive, it can help in determining contacts that they may have otherwise missed, so it’s particularly useful when using public transport, for example. The idea is to add an extra layer of protection for people when they are coming into contact with others, whether that’s through socialising, work or travel. The app has been introduced at a time when the infection rate is on the rise again and as we come into the winter months.

How does it work?

The app uses Bluetooth technology to alert users if they have been in prolonged close contact – two metres or less, for 15 minutes or more – with someone who has since tested positive for COVID-19. Whenever someone tests positive for the virus, they are contacted by a contact tracer via text, phone or email. The contact tracer working for NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect service will ask them if they are an app user and whether they are willing to use the app’s upload function to anonymously alert people they have come into close contact with. If they agree, they’ll be sent a randomly generated code to their mobile which unlocks this function on the app. By sharing their positive test result, it forms part of an anonymous database. The app on other users’ phones regularly checks this database to see if they have been in contact with an infected person. A warning is automatically issued when a match is found, though users will not know who the contact is or where the contact happened. Users are then advised to get tested or self-isolate for 14 days.

What devices does the app work on?

The app is available for both iOS (Apple) and Android devices. It uses the most current version of the phone’s operating system to make use of the latest Bluetooth technology. Some users may be asked to upgrade their operating system the first time they use it. This means iPhones that support iOS 13.5 (or later) such as iPhone 6S and above or Android phones running Android 6.0 and higher.

What happens if you have an older phone?

Quite simply, you won’t be able to use the app. While the Scottish Government is urging as many people as possible to download the app, it is not essential, and is being used in conjunction with existing tracing processes. The app will function in addition to person- to-person contact tracing, which will remain the main way of identifying and alerting close contacts of those who have tested positive. It does not require the whole population to use the app in order for it to provide additional benefit to Test & Protect and Scotland as a whole.

Is it secure?

Yes. The app does not store any personal data that can identify you. Only anonymous data is stored and this is encrypted. The app doesn’t collect your name, age or address, nor does it hold your phone number. It cannot be used to track your location or to check if you are self-isolating. The app can only share anonymised information from your phone if you choose to and does not reveal the identities of people who have tested positive for coronavirus. In short, nobody can see your data. The app does not store personal data anywhere and data is not made visible by the app to anyone, including the Scottish Government, or even NHS Scotland. The app also includes a leave function which can be used at any time to delete all app data from the phone.

Will the app run on transport including underground trains and aircraft?

Yes. In fact, transport is the ideal place to use the app, particularly trains, buses and ferries, as you will not know who most of your fellow passengers are. As the app runs on Bluetooth, no internet signal is required, so it will also work underground and on aircraft. This includes when your phone is switched to flight mode.

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