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Pharmacy teams on Isle of Wight to have first access to NHS contact tracing app

By Isabel Shaw

05 May 2020

A new contact tracing app which will help trace cases of coronavirus is to be rolled out across the Isle of Wight this week, after first being made available to NHS staff, the government has announced.

The new NHS app, which will be trialed for the first time on the Isle of Wight, is part of the government’s new test, track and trace programme, intended to minimise the spread of Covid-19 and help the UK move safely towards reducing lockdown measures.

NHS and council staff will have access to the app from today, with the island’s residents gaining access from Thursday (7 May).

A pharmacist based on the Isle of Wight at Regents Pharmacy, Leander Merkin, said he thought the app was ‘definitely a good idea’ despite the ‘many conversations circulating over its potential pitfalls’.

He said he believed the app would have a positive impact on community pharmacy, as well as the wider community as long as it encouraged enough people to isolate when necessary.

‘Uptake will be important, as long as enough people have the app and it encourages people who are displaying symptoms to stay indoors, then it will work and then will it help bring us back to a level of normality.

‘And hopefully, if it proves to work well here, it can be used on the mainland to help minimise the spread of coronavirus.’

How the app works

The app will be used alongside enhanced contact tracing services and swab testing for those showing Covid-19 symptoms to follow the spread and minimise contagion.

When a user reports symptoms of Covid-19 through the application, the app will then trace every app user that person has come into close contact with over the days prior to reporting symptoms.

The app will then alert the people the suspected carrier has come into contact with and offer advice, including how to isolate and how they can get a test to confirm whether they have the virus.

Users will be able to order a test through the app.

Those not able to access the app, including those without a smartphone, will be able to report their symptoms and order tests in other ways.

As the app is still being developed, users who report symptoms will be asked to manually record recent contacts by using an online service or over the phone. This is so that everyone can be reached, including those who do not yet have the app.

Programme be rolled out nationally later this month

The programme is planned to be rolled out nationally by mid-May, government has said, to assist easing of current lockdown restrictions while aiming to still containing the spread of the disease.

Similar contact tracing strategies have been put in place around the world to help keep social distancing measures to a minimum while also helping to pinpoint those who need to in quarantine.

‘Ground-breaking technology’

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock spoke of the ‘vital role’ the app could play ‘in getting Britain back on her feet’.

‘The Isle of Wight is playing a vital role with this pioneering work to help keep Britain safe. This will pave the way for a nationwide roll-out when the time is right,’ he said.

‘This ground-breaking technology, combined with our heroic frontline health and social care staff, and both a nationwide contact tracing testing programme will ensure that we remain in the best position to move toward easing the lockdown.’

Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van Tam, commented: ‘By widespread testing those suspected to be infected with coronavirus, tracing their contacts and where appropriate advising them to self-isolate, we can slow the onward spread of the virus.

‘This new app-based system, developed by technology experts in partnership with clinicians and scientists, will run alongside traditional contact tracing by PHE. If uptake and use is widespread it will give us the greatest room for manoeuvre to ease other social distancing measures.’

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