how does track and trace work?

What does my postcode district risk level mean?

You provide the first half of your postcode to the app so the government can notify you when the risk level in your area changes. Here’s what each risk level means:


High risk means your local authority is using additional measures, such as lockdown, to reduce transmission.


If your area is at medium risk then your local authority, or a neighbouring local authority, has higher levels of infection than in other parts of the country. A local area plan may have been put in place to reduce infection, such as additional testing in care homes or added mobile testing capacity.


Normal coronavirus control measures are in place.

How will the app help me book a test?

You can report details of your symptoms on the app. If they suggest possible Covid-19 infection, the app will ask you to book a test for yourself and everyone in your household online. You will also have to self-isolate for 14 days.

If you booked a test a different way, you can still link your test result to the app if you received a positive result.

To link your test result to the app, select Enter test result on the home screen of your app. Then, enter the code you received from the testing service by email or text.

What happened to the previous NHS app?

Based on Apple and Google’s privacy-centric software, the app marks the second attempt by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to develop a software to bolster the contact tracing effort.

A first version that stored some information centrally was ditched after an unsuccessful trial on the Isle of Wight in May.

The app had been sent back to the drawing board after the Government decided its approach presented too many technical challenges. 

Technical problems included an audit that found it could detect only one in 25 contacts on Apple phones in some cases. The app also did not work on Android phones that were more than four years old.

The root of these problems were due to the fact the NHSX app was trying to work around privacy limitations placed on smartphones by Apple, which makes iPhones, and Google, which makes Android.

These limitations meant that when iPhones went idle, they would stop registering Bluetooth matches, making the technology ineffective. 

Are there privacy concerns?

Some people have flagged concerns about patient privacy. Dr Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, head of the Computational Privacy Group at Imperial College London, has warned that such apps could “collect sensitive information like location data”. 

“We need to do everything we can to help slow the outbreak. Contact tracing requires handling very sensitive data at scale, and solid and proven techniques exist to help us do it while protecting our fundamental right to privacy. We cannot afford to not use them,” he said. 

Mr Hancock has pushed back against the privacy concerns, claiming that data would only be held as long as it was needed and that “all data will be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards”.

“If you become unwell you can securely tell this new NHS app, and the app will then send an alert anonymously to other app users who you’ve been in significant contact with,” the health secretary said. 

What if I live in Scotland or Northern Ireland?

Scotland and Wales have separate contact tracing apps which you can download and use. The NHS app for England will not work in these countries, so you’ll need to download different apps and switch over if you already have England’s app.

For people in Scotland, go to your app store and search for “Protect Scotland.”

For people in Northern Ireland, go to your app store and search for “StopCOVID NI.”

Both apps work in the same way as England’s app, meaning you need to set them up first and turn on Bluetooth so that they can continue running in the background.

If you already have a different country’s app installed, you can switch your contact tracing region over by opening the new app. Tap “Allow” when asked if you want to switch to the current app for exposure notifications.

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