The health minister for Northern Ireland has said the NHS Covid-19 tracing app is “not compulsory” to download, urging people to wait for a separate app being developed to work in conjunction with the Republic of Ireland’s one.
Speaking to the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for Health, Robin Swann said that, since NI is part of the UK, residents will have access to the NHS app “whether we want it or not.”
He did not suggest downloading it, however, as a “Northern Ireland version” is being created which “can interact with” with the Republic’s one.
Northern Ireland is the only one of the UK’s devolved administrations to create its own app, since both apps on the island of Ireland will need to work in conjunction with one another. Swann said there had already been some “difficulties” and “uncertainties” with the NHS app, which is intended to alert users if they have been in contact with a person who tested positive for the virus.
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Dublin has opted for a “less intrusive” decentralized model for the app, which sees user data stored on devices rather than sent to central databases run by authorities, as is the case with the NHS app.
NI’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said officials from there and the Republic had met already to discuss using an all-island system. She said she had concerns around the centralized model from a “human rights point of view.”
The UK app has been beset with problems and concerns around privacy due to its centralized structure. While officials initially touted it as a “key part” of its tracing strategy, they have shifted the focus back onto manual tracing in recent days, as reports of issues with the app spread.
It also looks as though the NHS app may miss its target launch date of June 1, as it is still currently in test mode.
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