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By Dr Edward O’Neill, Consultant Medical Adviser, Dept of Health NI
The StopCovidNI contract tracing app is a success story.
It was the first proximity app launched in the UK back in July. It has been downloaded more than 500,000 times, more than 22,500 users have been notified to self-isolate and more than 6,500 positive cases have been entered into the app.
It is connected to and works with similar apps in the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Gibraltar and Jersey and will soon provide individualised recommended end dates for self-isolation.
The app is an important tool in the Track, Trace, Protect system and is helping to support wider HSC efforts to contain and limit the spread of COVID-19 yet, despite our best efforts, there remains a fair degree of scepticism and mistrust within some sections of society.
In this blog, I want to try and address 10 of the most ‘popular’ misconceptions about the app.
1 The police are going to use the app to hand out fines if people don’t self-isolate.
They can’t and won’t. The app is completely confidential and does not collect personal information.
2 I can work out how I got this notification in error, so I can ignore it.
Do not ignore a notification. Unless you have had very limited contact with other people, and know all of the people you have been in close contact with, you will not know precisely who has potentially passed the infection to you.
3 The app tracks where you are, or can use QR codes to know where you have been.
The app does NOT track where you are. The app uses the strength of Bluetooth signals from the phones of other users to work out risk of infection. QR codes are not used in the ‘StopCOVID NI’ app.
4 The app lets the contact tracers know my number so they can call me.
The app never shares your phone number. The app does not capture or store phone numbers of contacts.
5 The app can be used to prank people, and should be ignored.
The only way you can activate the app to warn others about a positive diagnosis is if you receive a SMS text from the ‘HSCResult’ secure text account, with an authorisation code. You could not possibly guess the right code to be able to prank people.
6 If you wear PPE or are behind a protective screen at work you can ignore exposure notifications if you get one.
As stated previously, do not ignore a notification. If you are out and about, mixing with other people at all, there is a chance that you could have been exposed to someone with infection at any time.
7 I left my phone in the car / a locker / unattended last week, so if I get a notification, I can ignore it.
You cannot assume that the notification you received relates to a specific time when you left your phone unattended with the app on. If you are leaving your phone unattended, you must remember to deactivate the app using the pause button, or switch off your phone. The app will not work if your phone is switched off.
8 You need to use the Irish app if you are travelling there.
No. This is wrong. You can use the ‘StopCOVID NI’ app travelling anywhere in Ireland. The app is linked to the app in Ireland, meaning that your app will communicate anonymously with Irish app users, and both phones can assess risk of infection, or provide notification of infection. The same is true for the apps operating in Scotland, England, Wales, Gibraltar and Jersey.
9 If I get a text to tell me I have had a positive test, the app knows this.
The app does not know you have a positive test, unless you let it know by entering the authorisation code. Once you receive the code by SMS message, it can only be used once, and expires after 24 hours.
10 The app will tell me to self-isolate even if I have only walked past someone in the street who has tested positive, so how can I trust it?
No it won’t. You will only get an exposure notification if a contact in the last 14 days was for longer than 15 minutes and at a distance of 2 metres or less. Passing people in the street does not meet this threshold, and will not trigger an exposure notification.
For further information on these 10 StopCovidNI myths please visit: – https://covid-19.hscni.net/guidance/top-ten-myths-about-stopcovid-ni/