More than six months after the UK was put into lockdown, the coronavirus pandemic shows no signs of abating.
Alongside testing, a key method in slowing the spread of the virus is contact tracing. This is where people are alerted if they may have come into contact with someone who has since tested positive, and then encouraged to self-isolate.
Now, the government has launched its official test and trace app in England and Wales, with a number of features designed to keep people safe in these uncertain times.
What is the NHS Covid-19 app?
"NHS COVID-19" is a smartphone app that's designed to help people stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic. It's only available in England and Wales, with Scotland and Northern Ireland already having launched their own equivalent apps.
Its primary purpose is for contact tracing, where people will be alerted if they may have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Designed by Apple and Google, this uses the Bluetooth connection on your phone to "securely collect and share random IDs with other phones that are nearby".
If the app suspects you have been in contact with an infectious person, it will recommend that you self-isolate for 14 days. However, unlike testing positive yourself or returning from a country not on the travel corridor list, this will not be mandatory.
However, there's plenty of extra functionality. Upon entering the first part of your postcode during setup, the app will give you an indicator of the "Risk level" where you live. You can also check in to venues by scanning QR codes when you arrive, check any existing symptoms you have or enter the result of a test to further improve the accuracy of the service.
How to download the NHS Covid-19 app
To download the app, you'll first need to have a compatible smartphone. It's not available on tablets, laptops or PCs.
The app is compatible with all phones running Android 6.0 Marshmallow (2015) or later which have access to the Google Play Store. That last point is crucial, as it means recent Huawei phones aren't supported.
All iPhones since the iPhone 6S (2015) are compatible with the app. Despite using the same App Store, it's worth reiterating that the app will not work on an iPad.
From there, the setup process is the same on both platforms:
- Once you open the app, you'll see a summary of the app's features. Tap Continue to get started
- On the next screen, confirm that you're over 16 (provided you are of course)
- Next, enter the first part of your postcode (e.g. NW1)
- On the next screen, tap 'Turn on' to allow exposure notifications. As part of this step, Bluetooth on your device will be turned on
- That's it! You should now be on the app's home screen
The contact tracing feature is thought to use very little battery, even when running in the background. However, you can turn it off by using the toggle at the bottom of the screen.
How to book a test in the NHS Covid-19 app
While contact tracing is the main one, it's far from the only feature in the app. Another big one is booking a test, which you'll be advised to do if you have any of the 3 main symptoms: a high temperature, new continuous cough or loss/change to your sense of smell or taste:
- From the home screen of the app, tap "Check symptoms"
- Add a tick beside any of the main symptoms you have and tap "Continue". If you don't have any, it's recommended you don't book a test
- On the next screen, review your answers and select a date when you think these symptoms started
- Hit submit to book your test on the website
How to scan a QR code in the NHS Covid-19 app
Another key function of the app is the scanning of QR codes when you visit places like pubs, restaurants and bars. This is aimed at replacing the existing format, where you have to provide your name and contact information to the owners of the venue:
- On the home screen of the app, tap "Venue check in"
- Hit "Allow" if it's your first time using the feature
- Now, hold your phone up to an official NHS QR code (these should be clearly indicated)
- Once recognised, the app will say that you've successfully checked in
The app is thought to need around 60% of the population to download it in order to be effective, so we'd highly recommend getting it set up on your smartphone.
Here are more reasons why you should download the app.