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Covid-19 app updated after confusion around ‘phantom alert’

Jamie Harris, PA Science Technology Reporter
·2-min read

The coronavirus contact tracing app for England and Wales has been updated after users reported confusion from a notification suggesting they may have been exposed to the virus.

A so-called “phantom alert” caused panic among some who had received it, with reports that the notification would disappear when tapped and show no further information within the app.

The message read: “Possible Covid-19 exposure. Someone you were near reported having Covid-19. Exposure date, duration and signal strength have been saved.”

However, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said these particular alerts are default privacy notifications from Apple and Google – who created the underlying technology – to alert people that the app is sharing information with the system.

To ease concerns, an update to the app will provide a follow-up message, saying: “Covid-19 Exposure Check Complete.

“Don’t worry, we have assessed your risk and there is no need to take action at this time.

“Please continue to stay alert and follow the latest advice on social distancing.”

How the NHS contact-tracing app works
(PA Graphics)

DHSC said important messages from the NHS Covid-19 app will always be visible to the user when they open the app, even if they miss the notification.”NHS Covid-19 app users only need to self-isolate if they get a notification directly from the app advising them to do so,” a spokesman said.

It comes after a recent climbdown on the app’s check-in scanning, which people can use when visiting venues such as restaurants and pubs.

Despite initially being heralded as an important aid to contact tracing efforts, the Government later said it does not expect to send out alerts frequently from the QR code feature.

The app has been downloaded more than 16 million times since launching on September 24.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own contact tracing apps which use the same underlying system developed by Apple and Google.