Northern Irish residents may be forced to download two contact-tracing apps, Stormont admits

Residents in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland may be forced to download two contact tracing apps in order to safely travel across the border, The Telegraph can reveal.

In a crisis reminiscent of the infamous Irish border Brexit debate, Northern Irish residents may be asked to download both the UK’s NHS contact-tracing app and an app being developed south of the border.

The Republic of Ireland has opted to work with Google and Apple to develop a contact-tracing app. But experts have warned that this system will be impossible to make compatible with the UK’s app.

A spokesperson for Stormont confirmed there were urgent talks with their neighbour on how to facilitate people crossing the border for work or travel. The spokesperson said options under consideration “may include individuals in border regions or working across the island needing to download both versions of the apps. Resolution is needed before the beginning of the step-down of social isolation guidance.”

Contact-tracing apps are being developed in a number of countries in an effort to track down those with coronavirus using smartphones.

The apps work by emitting a low-energy Bluetooth signal. When two phones that have the signal meet, they automatically perform a “digital handshake”. If one app user then develops coronavirus symptoms, they can anonymously alert people they have come into contact with.

But Apple and Google’s solution relies on storing this data on smartphones, which they companies say will maintain privacy. The UK’s app, however, plans to transfer data on suspected coronavirus matches to a central server.

The two approaches are incompatible because UK’s is “centralised” while the other is “decentalised” and “the systems work on different foundations,” said Michael Veale, a lecturer at University College London working on a contact-tracing solution being developed in several European countries.

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