Comment: will the Government app really solve contact tracing at venues?

By Jim Preen

- Last updated on GMT

Will the Government NHS test and trace app really solve contact tracing at hospitality venues?

Related tags: Coronavirus, test and trace, Restaurant

The NHS test-and-trace app launches next week but it's unlikely to be the game changer it promises to be.

The Government’s NHS test-and-trace app is set for launch on 24 ​September. It is intended as a big weapon in the Government’s arsenal to defeat Covid-19. One of its ambitions is to support contact tracing at venues.

According to the Government website​, the app will ‘enable people to scan the unique QR codes of venues they have visited to aid contact tracing and help understand the spread of the virus.’

Its advice suggests that if a venue is currently using a QR code service to log customers they should ‘now switch to the official NHS QR code system.’

So, is this the easy contact tracing solution that venues have been searching for? Not so fast.

The Government has given some indication as to how the app will work: ‘If a venue is identified as high risk, your app will alert you, and if you test positive, you will be able to use your check-in log to remind yourself where you have been when talking to a contact tracer.’

So, where does this leave venue owners? As indicated, the Government is asking venues to display QR codes linked to the NHS app and have customers scan them as they enter the premises. Though strongly urged to do so, this is not a legal requirement on the part of anyone.

However, it is a legal requirement for venues to collect customer data in some form. Obviously not everyone has a smart phone and there will be many, as we will see in a moment, who have not downloaded the app. This means venues must have a complementary system in place to satisfy their legal obligation to collect customer data.

Landlords should be aware that just displaying the government QR codes is not enough.

By its own admission, the Government recognises that for the app to work there must be widespread take up. Academics suggest that more than 60% of the population will need to download it for it to work effectively.

Although the Government is at pains to stress the data collected on the app is secure there are concerns among the public about data protection and perhaps a nagging suspicion the government is tracking your every move. Some may worry it could be used for policing those who are forced to self-isolate though there is scant evidence to suggest that is the case.

What follows is bordering on the murky world of conspiracy theories, but it has been suggested the app could be used by unscrupulous people to settle scores.

Got a beef against someone? Spend time with them, report via the app that you have Covid-19 thus forcing your frenemy to self-isolate. Have you visited a pub and been barred for anti-social behaviour? Report you have contracted the disease thus leaving open the possibility that the pub might be forced to shut down. All done by an unpleasant person who is able to remain anonymous.

Some of the above may be stretching credibility but there’s no doubt It’s going to be a tough sell to get the public on board, especially as the government itself sees the app as part of a ‘digital diary’ tracking where you have been.

Whether the government app actually works or is adopted widely by the public remains to be seen. For landlords, restaurant owners and the rest the law is clear: you must collect customer data. The government app has a role to play and it may help punters but will be of limited use to publicans. It’s not a game changer.

This may be unwelcome news, but amid all the Covid confusion it’s important to understand that venues need back up. And back up means having your own contact tracing solution.

Jim Preen is a journalist at crisis management and communications company YUDU Sentinel​.

Related topics: People

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