The StopCOVID NI app has been designed to assist in stopping the spread of coronavirus in Northern Ireland.
It anonymously contacts users who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus and who is also using the app.
The Public Health agency said: “It will help tell people you don’t know, who would not be warned by the manual contact tracing process, that they might be infected.”
We have pulled together a lift of Q & As from the PHA on what the app does and what each notification on your phone means.
Does the app link with the PHA Contact Tracing Service (CTS)?
The app does not link to the contact tracing service directly. Once someone has a positive test, contact tracing will be initiated.
The PHA says it will operate in parallel, encouraging ‘high risk’ contacts that might have been missed otherwise, to self isolate. Some people using the app may also be contacted by the Contact Tracing Service if they are known to the person who tests positive and their details have been passed to CTS.
However, it has the added benefit of alerting other app users who may not be known to the person who tested positive, and they will be provided with advice through the app on what do.
What do you do when the app tells you that you have been identified as a ‘potential exposure’?
This notification tells you the app is working. A potential exposure notification lets you know the number of times in a week that your phone has noticed another phone where a user has a positive test, irrespective of duration and distance. No action is required in such a circumstance.
A separate alert will be triggered when the app knows you are at risk as a close contact because of the degree and situation of exposure. It will tell you to self-isolate for 14 days. You must complete this isolation in full, even if you receive a negative test result at any point during this period.
Who should download the app?
The app is free to download and use for anyone who is resident in Northern Ireland.
The app is intended only for people resident in Northern Ireland and should not be otherwise used.
Users downloading the app who are not resident in Northern Ireland will not be able to receive an authorisation code to input to the app if they receive a positive test for Covid-19, as the app is linked to the Northern Ireland test registry.
You must be at least 18 years of age in order to download and use the app.
How can I download the app?
The app has been designed specifically for use on mobile phones – Apple and Android – and therefore cannot be downloaded for use on iPads or other mobile devices which use different operating systems.
The app is available, free of charge, from both the Apple App store and the Google Play store.
How does the app work?
The phones of those using the app emit anonymised coded ‘keys’, ‘Identifier Beacons’, which change every 15 minutes.
‘Keys’ are stored on the user’s phone for 14 days before being discarded.
“When close to each other, app users’ phones exchange these anonymous ‘keys’, and if they are in close proximity with another user for a significant period of time, both will store the anonymous ‘key’ of the other phone for 14 days,” the PHA states.
If an app user tests positive for Covid-19 the user is encouraged to enter their positive result/update their status on the app, it will then notify any app users that have been closer than two metres for more than fifteen minutes (this is in line with current public health policy, and can be changed depending on advised best practice), in the previous 14 days.
If you get a notification via the app telling you that you were in contact with someone who has tested positive you must self-isolate for 14 days.
The app uses capabilities of mobile operating systems. Apple and Google have developed a method that allows specific government-only Covid-19 apps to make use of Bluetooth technology on phones that would otherwise not be available.
As the app will need to use the most current version of the phone’s operating system, users may be asked to upgrade the first time they use it. None personal information in this app is ever shared with Apple or Google. The app cannot be used on older phones, on which it is not possible to upgrade the operating system.
It is not available on phones which use a different operating system, other than the Android or iOS systems deployed by Google/Apple.
StopCOVID NI notifications explained
Exposure ‘log’ notification
This is an image of an exposure ‘log’ notification.
It is not an exposure notification. On seeing this you should not self-isolate.
It means you have been close to another app user, but does not follow the setting of 2 metres or less, for 15 minutes or more. It is a problem with the iOS system that Apple will be removing in future versions.
Only if you have been close enough, for long enough, to an app user that tests positive, will you receive a clear exposure notification from the app.
This is an image of an exposure notification.
If you receive this notification it means you have been close to another app user who has tested positive.
StopCOVID NI exposure notification – homescreen
This is an image of the homescreen of the StopCOVID NI app once you have received an exposure notification.
If you click on the ‘read more’ button you will be directed to additional information on what you should do next.
StopCOVID NI exposure notification – further information
This image shows further information within the app that you will receive if you receive an exposure notification.
This information outlines how long you must self-isolate for and why you must do so.
It also contains links to information on close contacts and how to self-isolate.
Turning the app off
It’s important the app is active as much as possible to help stop the spread of coronavirus. If you need to disable it for any reason, you can do this by turning off your phone’s Bluetooth feature.
If you work somewhere that uses social distancing and added safety measures (for example, perspex screens and PPE), you can disable the app while working.
The app doesn’t know you have extra protection from close contact in this scenario, so disabling it will avoid ‘false’ contact notifications.
What data does the app use?
A PHA spokesperson said: “Metric data does not identify you and is used to create aggregate views of how the app is being used and the impact it is having on the virus. Here is a list of the app metrics which, if you consent, are collected from your app.
- The number of app users
- Ratio of exposure notifications to positive cases, measured at a regional level (not related to any individual user). The Department of Health will not know who, where or when, simply total numbers of ‘authorisation codes’ and ‘exposure notifications’ in any given time period.
“No personally identifiable information is entered on the app. The ‘app settings’ gives you the ability to remove the app at any time, and any information stored on the phone while using the app.
“If you are notified that you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, you will be advised to self-isolate for 14 days, and get a test if you start to have the symptoms of Covid-19 infection.
“You will not be given the identity of the person who tested positive – likewise, if you test positive an input the code to the app to alert close contacts, those contacts will not be given your identity – it is all completely anonymous.”
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