Days after first revealing that the country was about to join the likes of Germany, Korea, the Republic of Ireland and other countries in having such capability, the Scottish government has made the official launch of Protect Scotland, the country’s Covid-19 coronavirus contact-tracing app.
Supported by a dedicated Protect Scotland website, the app is an extra tool complementing existing person-to-person contact tracing, which remains the main component of NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect system.
The Scottish contact-tracing technology was first announced in May 2020, just as the UK-wide NHS began the first trials of its much-delayed and yet-to-be-launched app on the Isle of Wight. Accessible on smartphones or computers, the web-based tool for the NHS in Scotland was designed to allow citizens to input details of people they have been in close contact with, and for these to be sent directly and securely to contact-tracing teams.
The Protect Scotland app is free to download from the Apple and Google app stores. Compatible with iPhone 6S and above and Android 6.0 and above it uses Bluetooth technology to anonymously alert users if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, and advises them to self-isolate.
In practice, the app focuses solely on proximity tracing. If an individual tests positive for Covid-19, they will be sent a unique code to their mobile. If they give permission, the data will then be sent to a server so close contacts also using the app can be notified by text and advised to self-isolate. It will not include additional functionality such as QR code software to allow for venue check-in/outs. Nor will it include symptom checking.
Users of the app who test positive will still get a call from a contact tracer to confirm their details and who they have been in close contact with. The app does not store details on an individual or their location, but instead is said to use encrypted, anonymised codes exchanged between smartphones to determine all close contacts. Close contacts are defined as people who have been within two metres of someone who has tested positive, for 15 minutes or more.
The Protect Scotland app launch comes days just after NHS Highland revealed it had signed a deal with Highland Health Ventures Ltd (HHVL) – a company established with the remit to bring innovation into the healthcare system – in association with Wyld Networks to test and deploy mobile mesh technology in care homes in Scotland to help protect residents, staff and visitors by preventing the spread of Covid-19 or other viruses.
Going forward, the Scottish government said it would remain “in discussion” with the UK government regarding the latter’s planned contact-tracing app, which is still in development despite an original proposed launch date of May 2020.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has urged smartphone users across the country to download the Protect Scotland contact-tracing app to help suppress the spread of the virus.
“The launch of the app is a welcome development which will offer an additional level of protection – supporting NHS Scotland’s test and protect system as it works to drive down the spread of Covid-19 across the country,” she said.
“I would encourage everyone to download the free app if they have a compatible smartphone, and help slow the spread of Covid-19. This will support the work of NHS Scotland and has the potential to help avoid local lockdowns.
“Downloading the app – alongside other vital measures such as following hygiene and physical distancing guidance – will help protect you, your family and your community. We also know that not everyone uses a smartphone or will be able to or want to access the app, which is why this software is very much there to complement existing contact-tracing methods.”
Cian Ó Maidín, CEO of NearForm, said it was “delighted to partner with NHS Scotland on the Protect Scotland app which puts power in citizens’ pockets to join the fight against Covid-19”.
“This open source technology was built with privacy and data protection at its core, and, through anonymous keys, allows Scottish citizens to engage, protect each other and break transmission chains. The Scottish Government has taken a great approach, using open source software that has been peer reviewed and rolled out successfully in Ireland and Northern Ireland.”