The health secretary Matt Hancock announced the move at the government’s daily pandemic press briefing.
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But one expert who has advised the effort has raised doubts about it.
The BBC has learned that NHSX – the health service’s digital innovation unit – will test a pre-release version of the software with families at a secure location in the North of England next week.
At present, the idea is that people who have self-diagnosed as having coronavirus will be able to declare their status in the app.
The software will then send the equivalent of a yellow alert to any other users who they have recently been close to for an extended period of time.
If a medical test confirms that the original user is indeed infected, then a stronger warning – effectively a red alert – will be sent instead, signalling that the other users should go into quarantine.
To report testing positive, the user would have to enter a verification code, which they would have received alongside their Covid-19 status.
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