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Health Minister urges public to ‘activate the app’ and help curb Covid

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BT Coleraine

Health Minister Robin Swann has urged the public to download and activate the new mobile phone app which will alert users if they have been in close contact with other users who have tested positive for Covid-19.

Announcing the “go-live” of the StopCOVID NI app, Minister Swann said:

“I am pleased to announce today that this new mobile app is now available to download from Apple and Google app stores ahead of its official launch tomorrow afternoon and the roll out of a public information campaign to encourage take up.

“Deploying this world leading technology can prove a major factor in helping our efforts to curb Covid-19 and prevent its spread. Its potential to be a game changer will, however, be totally dependent on the support of the Northern Ireland public.

“We are asking the public to help us by downloading this app, and to encourage anyone they know to do so. The more of us in Northern Ireland that are using the app, the more effective it will be in preventing the spread of Covid-19.

“The public’s response to the ‘stay at home’ message, the response to advice on handwashing, and other measures to control infection, helped us get though the initial stage of this pandemic. I am confident that they will wish to help make this app another effective measure in reducing infection rates, to save lives and protect our health service.

“It will only take a few short minutes to download and activate this app. This could be the most important thing you do all year. It could prevent you from spreading the virus to people you care about.”

This app will support and supplement the Public Health Agency’s (PHA) existing telephone based contact tracing operation that already exists to minimise the spread of the virus.

It was designed using the Information Commissioners Office “Privacy by Design” principles and therefore uses only anonymised information in its operation.

The app will be interoperable with the one already in use in the Republic of Ireland and is also highly likely to be compatible with apps introduced in future across the UK and Europe. This will be the first instance of such a solution worldwide; and will be the first example of such apps operating in an interoperable manner.

Dan West, the Department of Health’s Chief Digital Information Officer, underlined that the new app is an indication of the value of using digital technologies to enhance interaction between the public and service providers.

He said: “Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care (HSC) system has reacted brilliantly to Covid-19, but there’s still lots we can do during the remainder of the pandemic and more broadly to modernise the way people interact with services. The StopCOVID NI proximity app is a good example of how we can use digital technologies to deliver better outcomes and improve citizen experience. We have more of this planned, as well as investment in technology in how HSC staff go about their jobs and share information with patients.”

Dr Eddie O’Neill, Product Manager StopCOVID NI, said the input of many partners had contributed to the successful development of the app.

“Delivering this app on time, and within budget, has been a huge achievement for the DoH and Digital Health & Care NI. This has very much been a team effort, in partnership with colleagues in the HSCB, PHA, BSO, local universities QUB and UU; as well as our private sector partners NearForm, BigMotive, Expleo and IT Guarded. I would like to thank everyone for the huge effort and long hours expended in making this such a successful project.”

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