Get the latest on coronavirus. Sign up to the Daily Brief for news, explainers, how-tos, opinion and more.
The NHS is to launch a smartphone app that traces people who are carrying the coronavirus, health secretary Matt Hancock has said.
The minister told the daily Downing Street press conference on Sunday that the app would allow people to log their symptoms anonymously and that data would only to be used by NHS staff.
Other app users would then be sent an alert if they have been in contact with the person who suspects they are infected with Covid-19.
The secretary of state said the app is currently being tested and they are working with the world’s leading tech companies and experts in clinical safety and digital ethics “so that we can get this right”.
The app is likely to be part of a series of measures to allow the country to reduce the current state of lockdown.
The announcement came as the number of people in the UK who have died of the disease passed 10,000.
Hancock said: “If you become unwell with the symptoms of coronavirus you can securely tell this new NHS app and the app will then send an alert anonymously to other app users that you’ve been in significant contact with over the past few days, even before you have symptoms so that they know and can act accordingly.
“All data will be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards and would only be used for NHS care and research and we won’t hold it any longer than it’s needed.”
He added: “The more people who get involved then the better informed our response to coronavirus will be and the better we can protect the NHS.”
Meanwhile, Hancock refused to say whether the government could keep deaths below 20,000 – the “good outcome” previously outlined by chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance.
Asked whether the UK could achieve that outcome, Hancock said: “The future path of this pandemic in this country is determined by how people act and that’s why it’s so important that people follow the social distancing guidelines.”
He added: “Predictions are not possible precisely because they depend on the behaviour of the British people and I’m really glad that at the moment the British people this weekend are doing their bit.”
Responding to comments from infectious diseases expert Sir Jeremy Farrar, who is a member of the government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) that the UK is likely to have one of the worst death tolls in Europe, Hancock said: “I think that sort of comment merely reinforces the importance of the central message which is that people should stay at home because that protects the NHS and saves lives.”
Elsewhere, the health secretary also denied the government had been too slow to stockpile personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS staff earlier in the coronavirus outbreak and said supplies had been “significant”, although they were now being used up and replenished.
But he conceded the government has faced a “challenge of logistics” in delivering PPE to 58,000 organisations that need it.
The health secretary also clarified that PPE is delivered to people requesting it using a 24/7 hotline within two-and-a-half days.
He refused to apologise to NHS staff facing PPE shortages, instead choosing to pay tribute to the “unbelievable efforts” of workers during the crisis so far.