All of the contact-tracing apps from Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Jersey and Gibraltar are now interoperable, just a week after the NHS app was significantly enhanced to reflect better usage knowledge and the various apps all became workable in their respective territories.
The new capability, announced just as the UK enters a second national lockdown, will mean that if an app user tests positive for Covid-19, they can choose to upload the anonymous keys their phone has been exchanging with other phones, so alerts can be sent to other users they have been in close proximity with, whether the app they have is NHS Covid-19, Protect Scotland, StopCovid NI, Jersey Covid Alert or Beat Covid Gibraltar.
People who have downloaded the respective apps in their home territories do not need to do anything more to make their systems work while travelling – they just need to keep the app active. Those who test positive still need to use the app of the country they test positive in in order to insert their test code.
This approach has been agreed by all signatories to the agreement following advice from national cyber security authorities. No personal data is shared.
The apps in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Jersey and Gibraltar use underlying source code developed by Irish software developer NearForm which also developed the Republic of Ireland app, open sourced by the Irish government to the Linux Foundation Public Health under the Covid Green project.
Explaining the reason for developing the app to protect over 66 million people in the territories, NearForm said that as people head towards the holiday period and plan ahead to exit lockdown, interoperability will be an important addition to reopening safely and will allow app users to alert their close contacts anonymously if they have travelled to these regions.
“Stopping the spread of Covid-19 across borders is possible,” said NearForm CEO Cian Ó Maidín. “For those who must travel, interoperability provides a key additional level of protection for both themselves and others. The app’s close contact alerts break transmission chains by dramatically reducing the time taken for users to self-isolate and seek further advice, preventing further spread of the virus.”
Covid-19 app interoperability was first developed by NearForm for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and has since been rolled out successfully across the US states of Pennsylvania and Delaware and then New York and neighbouring New Jersey, as its apps became inter-linked through a federated server on 28 October.
NearForm also announced that the Irish app was one of three national apps in the initial launch of the European interoperability gateway. This is designed to ensure that EU contact-tracing apps will work seamlessly across borders and so users will only need to install one app and will still be able to report a positive infection test or receive an alert, even if they travel to another EU member state.
Gaby Appleton, director of product for Test and Trace in the UK, said the ability for the NHS Covid-19 app, developed by the UK arm of Swiss software firm Zühlke Engineering, to work across UK borders had been a clear priority since its launch on 24 September.