The NHS is considering branding Britain’s coronavirus contact tracing app ‘PPE in your pocket’ when it eventually launches.
The marketing slogan will compare the app – once considered a vital part of the Test and Trace system that is now running without it – to protective equipment such as gloves and masks.
And it could also contain a Geiger counter inspired tool to warn people when they are near areas with a lot of coronavirus-infected Brits.
Barcodes for buildings, which will track where people with Covid-19 have been, and countdown timers for self-isolation periods could also be included in the app, the Financial Times reported.
Officials abandoned the NHS’s attempt at making its own app earlier this month when they realised it didn’t work on iPhones.
Software being developed by Google and Apple is now expected to be the basis for an eventual app in the UK, but this is still months away.
Officials abandoned the NHS’s attempt at making its own app earlier this month when they realised it didn’t work on iPhones (Pictured: The app in development stages)
The slogan ‘PPE in your pocket’ was suggested at a meeting of NHSX, the technology arm of the health service, last week, according to the FT.
It is not clear why it is being considered, but the tagline could be intended to give the public the impression the app can protect them from the coronavirus, as masks – which are real PPE – can.
Officials have also reportedly suggested a radar-like feature in the app which people could use to see which areas have had large numbers of Covid-19 cases.
The app will be linked to the NHS Test and Trace system and automatically log connections between phones, making it easier to track people’s contacts if they test positive.
This could be crucial to improving Test and Trace’s success – data last week showed fewer than half of people testing positive were actually able to give information about people they had been near while infected.
Of the 20,968 people assigned to England’s 25,000 contact tracers, only 10,058 have actually given information that the tracers could follow up (48 per cent).
In its report last week, the Department of Health said the people who were unable to give contact details were ones who had only come into contact with complete strangers, such as on the bus.
An app would overcome this because it could anonymously link people who didn’t know each other if one of them had put the other at risk.
Another feature suggested for the app at the meeting was a barcode system in which places like restaurants or office blocks could keep track of visitors.
This could work by the barcode being placed at the entrance of the building so people who go in and out can scan it as they move through.
The system could then be updated when people test positive and visitors and employees would be able to see when an infected person had been in the building.
The add-on features suggested at the meeting, which were revealed by two insiders, come just weeks after it was revealed that the fundamentals of the app still don’t work.
NHSX’s app, now abandoned, was unable to monitor close contacts between people if one or both of them were using an iPhone because the phone forced it into sleep mode.
And the software made by Apple and Google, according to the UK Government, is currently unable to work out how far apart people are – an essential function of contact tracing.
British officials are now reported to be working with the tech giants to develop a hybrid app using the best features from both.
They said this month that the NHS app didn’t work when used on Apple iPhones – it essentially went into sleep mode and was unable to detect 96 per cent of contacts.
Although it worked better on Android, detecting 75 per cent of phones nearby, it did not compare with the 99 per cent detection achieved by Apple and Google’s software.
That technology, however, could not tell how far away someone was and produced the same signal for people at three metres as it did for people at one metre.
The amount of time people spend within a certain distance of one another – currently two metres – is ‘mission critical’ for a contact tracing app, Matt Hancock said.
People living in apartment buildings, for example, are likely regularly within three metres of someone but not actually in the same flat or even on the same floor.
NHS bosses now say they will pool the positives of both apps to try and create one which can be used in Britain in the future, but this is likely to take months.
Baroness Dido Harding and Matthew Gould, CEO of NHSX, the health service’s digital department, said in a joint statement: ‘We have agreed to share our own innovative work on estimating distance between app users with Google and Apple – work that we hope will benefit others – while using their solution to address some of the specific technical challenges identified through our rigorous testing.’
The Labour Party said the contact tracing app, initially scheduled for mid-May, had been another fiasco characteristic of the Government’s mishandling of Covid-19.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said at the time: ‘This is unsurprising and yet another example of where the government’s response has been slow and badly managed.
‘It’s meant precious time and money wasted.
‘For months tech experts warned ministers about the flaws in their app which is why we wrote to Matt Hancock encouraging the government to consider digital alternatives back in May.
‘Ministers must now urgently prioritise building a fully effective test, trace and isolate regime lead by local expertise to break the chains of transmission of this deadly virus.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was ridiculed last week for claiming that no country has a functioning contact tracing app, when Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition, pointed out that 12million people had downloaded an app in Germany.
The PM dismissed criticism over the failed NHS software, which was initially billed crucial for controlling the disease before being humiliatingly abandoned.
Mr Johnson insisted at PMQs this afternoon that no other country had a ‘functional’ app, after Sir Keir Starmer warned that one was critical for the test and trace system – especially with lockdown easing.
But Sir Keir shot back: ‘Germany – 12million downloads… I checked that overnight.’