Waverley Cllr Nick Palmer’s in one of his regular newsletters explains a little more about the new NHS App.
Should you download the new NHS app?
Regular readers of my newsletter will know that I’m critical of the Government, which you might expect from the Chair of the constituency Labour Party – but I try to be constructive too. In the last resort, we are all facing collective threats, and while the Government may not always be sensible, they are not actually trying to kill us! So we should look at the new NHS app that they launched with an open mind.
Here’s the official launch site about the app:
and here’s a guide on how to download it:
and a general discussion:
I have an iPhone 6 and found it really easy. It offers real-time checking of your environment for known infection sources, as well as easy check-in for public places like restaurants which are required to check your identity in case you need to be notified of an infection. It also enables you to report any tests you’ve had and to remind yourself of the symptoms to watch out for and the latest advice. Finally, it tells you the current infection level in your area. For GU7 it’s currently Medium, meaning that Waverley or a neighbouring authority has a high or rising level – this probably relates to Spelthorne, which was recently identified as a place to watch for rising rates.
There have been various criticisms, which I’ll look at simply as an informed observer – I have no official standing, so you shouldn’t take my advice as gospel, but for what it’s worth I have a mathematics PhD and I’m familiar with the way these things are developed.
If it detects every possible threat, won’t it go off all the time?
No. It keeps track of how closely and how long you’re exposed – merely passing someone in the street shouldn’t trigger it. So far, the rate of infection has I believe been around 1 in a thousand people, and many of those affected will be self-isolating. So if you go for a stroll and pass 10 people, it’s unlikely to react. On the other hand, if you go to an illegal house party with 30 reckless people, then it probably will warn you. So it should.
If it does warn you, what happens?
You are expected to self-isolate for 14 days and request a test (also available through the app). In practice, it’s up to you but you’re breaking the law if you ignore it and can, in theory, be fined. However, your app is anonymous and it’s not reporting to anyone but you. Clearly, you’ll normally want to self-isolate if you might have caught the virus unless you actually want to go around potentially infecting friends and family. The app will warn everyone who also has the app and has recently been in contact with you (it won’t identify you as the source). If your test comes back negative, they will all be informed and can forget the incident, though to be safe you’re asked to complete the 14 days’ isolation before returning to normal (or perhaps one should say “normal”).
Why is it important?
In practice, the Track & Trace network isn’t working reliably yet, because it’s dependent on people alerting each other by phone, a manual process subject to whether they find the person at home, whether they answer, and so on. If a good chunk of the population is carrying the app and respond appropriately, then the rate of infection will slow down automatically and we’ll all benefit. It doesn’t have to be universal – like a vaccine if a lot of people are taking it, it reduces the spread. But clearly, it’s not going to be so useful if only a few people use it, though it’s still helpful in alerting you if you visit a restaurant or another public place. Similar efforts are going on throughout Western Europe, with Ireland the most successful so far – around a third of the population is already using it there.
Should society just return to normal and take the risk?
If you do catch the virus, you probably won’t die unless you have a pre-existing condition or are over 60, and quite likely not even then. But the virus can have severe long-term consequences even if you survive, not all of which are yet fully understood. Catching it is a bad idea, even if you’re young and fit – quite apart from the issue of passing it on to others. We could collectively decide to ignore it and hope for the best, but inevitably the result would be a colossal number of deaths, dwarfing current levels, and a huge impact on the health of millions more. It’s hard to describe that as “the best”. In my opinion, we need to have a prudent year, even though it will mean less fun.
Will the app solve the problem?
No – for one thing, not everyone has a smartphone that can use it. But it’ll help. And that’s perhaps all we can expect for now. But we have a national crisis, and we should all try to do what we can to limit it.