UK and Ireland disagree on Coronavirus contact tracing app

  • The UK and Ireland are both planning to use contact-tracing apps when their respective lockdowns lift, but they disagree on the specifics.

    As countries draw up plans for emerging from lockdown, one of the key tools their arsenals is contact tracing. When a person is admitted to hospital, it's important for anyone they've recently come into contact with to be warned that they may now be infected and should self-isolate. This formed part of several countries' initial strategies to combat the spread of the virus, but was difficult to implement at scale.

    The UK and Ireland are both putting plans in place for lifting their respective lockdowns, and Northern Ireland has been caught in the middle. We share a frequently-crossed land border with Ireland that necessitates a co-ordinated approach to the Covid-19 crisis, but officially we've followed the UK Government's strategies.

    Contact tracing is one of those areas the UK and Ireland disagree on, and yet wide-scale tracing will have to form part of the strategies of both governments once the lockdown is lifted. Both bountries plan to ask citizens to install an app on their phone that will track their location throughout the day, but they'll be using two separate apps developed to different standards.

    Ireland plans to use a system developed by Google and Apple for Android and iOS devices that would use a decentralised system in which nearby phones would detect each other using bluetooth. This isn't normally possible as bluetooth services like this are not normally able to run in the background, but Google and Apple are developing a special API just for this outbreak. This decentralised system has been designed to be minimally invasive in terms of privacy.

    The UK is developing its own separate app that would connect to a central server and collect location data for each user, arguing that this data could prove invaluable for tracking viral spread. Critics have warned that the UK government's approach may make co-operation with other countries more difficult, and that it could be difficult to convince the general public to install the app on their devices.

    It's understood that the Irish government is working with the UK to ensure interoperability between the two apps. This will help the UK co-ordinate with the EU and will help particularly on the Northern Irish border.

    Source: BBC News

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