NHS Covid-19 tracing app update blocked as lockdown restrictions ease

The NHS Covid-19 app had been due to receive an update today (Getty)

As part of the UK’s lockdown restrictions lifted today, an update to the NHS Covid-19 app has been blocked by tech giants Apple and Google.

The update had been timed to coincide with the easing of restrictions and would allow users to upload logs of venue check-ins. This meant, if they tested positive, other users could be warned.

But this functionality means the collection of location data – something that had been explicitly banned when the government opted to use Apple and Google’s tech rather than developing its own.

Therefore, both Google and Apple have blocked the update from appearing for iOS and Android phones.

Scotland has avoided the block because it released a new app, Check In Scotland, rather than adding the feature into its contact tracing app.

Whilst the app available in England and Wales had always allowed users to check in to venues via a QR code, that information has never been shared between phones.

As the update has been blocked, the older version of the app continues to be live in the app stores. So while users will still scan to enter venues, the information will not be shared.

A sign asking patrons at a restaurant to scan a QR code for contact tracing purposes on the NHS app (Credits: Justin Ng / Avalon)

According to the Department of Health, other updates to the venue check-in process will remain in place.

The changes mean every member of a party has to check in with the app or leave contact details when they visit a venue, not just one person.

‘The NHS Covid-19 app is a key tool in our pandemic response. As venues begin to open up we encourage everyone who can to use the enhanced venue check-in process, which includes advising users to book a test if they attend venues where multiple people have tested positive,’ a spokesperson said.

‘The deployment of the functionality of the NHS Covid-19 App to enable users to upload their venue history has been delayed. This does not impact the functionality of the app and we remain in discussions with our partners to provide beneficial updates to the app which protect the public.’

Initial plans for the NHS app used a ‘centralised’ approach that uses a central server to work out who to send alerts to if social distancing has been breached.

But the government executed a U-turn and instead opted for Google and Apple’s model using a ‘decentralised’ approach where the process is carried out on the mobile handset itself.

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