Arrival of NHS contact-tracing app heralds return of QR codes

Guardian Technology 24 Sep 2020 06:00
In China, scanning a QR code has become the most common way of making an electronic payment. Photograph: Alex Plavevski/EPA

As people across England and Wales download the long-awaited NHS contact-tracing app on Thursday, they’ll also contribute to one of the most unlikely revivals of the Covid era: the humble QR code.

The app, which has been substantially rebuilt from the version first tested in the Isle of Wight in May, has had two significant changes. The first is a new underpinning, based on a framework created by Apple and Google, which allows it to work in a “decentralised” manner, sharing little data with the NHS about individuals’ movements.

The second is a new check-in functionality, which sees users asked to use the app to mark their presence at venues such as pubs, restaurants and hairdressers, to help contact tracers in their work “cluster-busting” – that is, tracking down all the people who might have been exposed to a super-spreader event.

Digitally checking in won’t be mandatory, and venues must maintain a paper log to serve those who can’t, or won’t, use the NHS app. But for those who do, it will be as easy as opening the app and scanning a QR code which the venue will have printed out and displayed prominently near the entrance.

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