Thank you for contacting me about contact tracking and tracing measures for coronavirus.
I fully support steps being taken to reduce the spread of coronavirus through sensible social distancing and isolation measures where appropriate.
Mass testing and contact tracing are not, by themselves, solutions, but may allow some social restrictions to be relaxed faster by working to supress transition more precisely. The UK now has capacity to carry out over 300,000 tests per day.
The COVID-19 Test and Trace Taskforce programme will ensure that, when someone develops COVID-19-like symptoms, they can rapidly have a test to find out if they have the virus, and people with whom they’ve had recent close contact can be alerted and provided with advice. Part of the tracing effort includes a voluntary NHS contact tracing app; this will help increase the speed and effectiveness of the tracing effort. Around 18,000 additional contact tracers are being deployed to support the programme, around 6,000 of whom will be supporting local test and trace teams.
The Test and Trace App
The NHS Test and Trace app will be available across England and Wales from 24 September. The Government would encourage you to download the app, if you have a smartphone, and to scan NHS Test and Trace QR codes which will be displayed in businesses and venues across the country, making it much easier for you to be notified in the event of an outbreak.
It is absolutely not true that the Coronavirus app has automatically been downloaded to phones. I understand that Android and Apple systems have recently been updated to enable technology used in Covid-19 apps across the globe, which is called an Exposure Notification API. However, this feature is turned off by default, with users needing to make an explicit choice to turn it on; even those who choose to download the app, thereby enabling the notification technology, will be able to switch off the Exposure Notification API in their phone settings. I would like to reiterate that people will always have the choice of whether or not to download the app.
My understanding is that at present there are no moves to make downloading an app compulsory. However, the more people who use it, the better informed the Government response. It will enable staff to understand the spread of the virus, as well as to get in touch with people who may be at risk.
I absolutely agree that it is important to protect people's privacy, which is why I am pleased that the Government has been working with Apple and Google to ensure that the security is of the highest standard and is compatible with all devices.
I know that many countries have been working to develop smartphone apps to aid contact tracing operations, and that some have launched their apps. However, in many of these countries uptake of apps has been low, and the contact tracing capabilities are not at the level we want to see here in the UK for the goals we seek to achieve with this technology. I know that the Government, NHS Test and Trace, and NHSX have worked extremely hard with developers to ensure that this is the case.
Protection against Fraud
It is extremely important that members of the public feel safe being contacted by the Track and Trace team. I understand that the team have undergone thorough training with this in mind. A member of the NHS Track and Trace team will never ask for details of card or bank account numbers, ask you to provide or fill in social media log in details, ask you to set up a pin, or ask you to download anything. You should only be asked for the information found in the privacy notice, here:
If you do not feel comfortable talking on the phone, or suspect the call to be a scam, you can ask for an email or a text that will invite you to use the Test and Trace web site instead. From this email, you will only ever be directed to this web address: contact-tracing.phe.gov.uk.
If you would like further information about how data will be gathered and stored, you can read the privacy notice, here:
As part of an unprecedented response to this pandemic, my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care have drawn on the expertise and resources of a number of public and private sector partners, including Serco, to support our NHS and social care sector. I am confident that these providers will be held to the highest standards to ensure that the best service possible is delivered.
Hospitality Venues and GDPR
I understand that hospitality venues assist with NHS Test and Trace by keeping a temporary record of customers and visitors for 21 days, so that if required, the information can be provided to NHS Test and Trace. This should be done in line with existing GDPR regulations, in a way that is safe for customers and manageable for businesses.
This programme is regarded as vital to the national effort to defeat coronavirus, and I will continue to monitor it closely.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP