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Coronavirus: Cross-border app will put Northern Ireland at head of UK's contact-tracing effort


Committee: Alan Chambers

Committee: Alan Chambers

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Committee: Alan Chambers

Northern Ireland could soon be leading the way in the UK with a cross-border coronavirus contact-tracing app.

Reports over the weekend suggest that the Executive has partnered with a firm in the Republic to create a smartphone app which will help health authorities in both parts of Ireland to track and trace people who have been in contact with Covid-19 sufferers.

"The Health Minister has commissioned work to develop a proximity app, based on the de-centralised Google/Apple model, for use in Northern Ireland," Stormont's Department of Health said in a statement to the BBC.

"This work includes examining the interoperability of apps and the sharing of information across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic."

A Dublin newspaper reported yesterday that the app was being developed by Waterford firm Nearform, and would work both in the Republic of Ireland and in the UK.

The report in the Business Post claimed the Covid-19 contact tracing app would be ready for launch in the Republic "within days".

A plan for the UK to develop a standalone app was shelved last week after trials on the Isle of Wight proved disappointing.

The UK had already spent around £12m on the project before it was stopped because of technical problems thrown up by the Isle of Wight tests.

Were Northern Ireland to implement a working track and trace app ahead of England, where £12m and four months has been wasted on a centralised app, it would be a considerable boost for Stormont.

However, last night a member of the Assembly's Health Committee said the panel had not received any information on the cross-border app plan.

Ulster Unionist health spokesman Alan Chambers MLA told the Belfast Telegraph he would be raising the matter at the Health Committee tomorrow, when Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride is due to appear.

The UUP MLA felt there could be issues around entering confidential personal information into an app - especially by people with past or present links to the security forces.

"But I would expect any major development like this to come before the Committee before finally being implemented," he said.

The new app is expected to have a greater focus on privacy compared to the centralised app tested on the Isle of Wight.

Belfast Telegraph