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England's Apple-Google Exposure Notification app set to begin public trials

Credit: NHSX

England is set to launch public trials of its upcoming coronavirus contact tracing app based on the Apple-Google Exposure Notification framework.

The National Health Service initially rejected the Apple-Google API in favor of a proprietary technology built by NHSX, the organization's innovation arm. In June, the NHSX backtracked on that decision following poor testing results.

Now, a revamped system based on the underlying technology created by Apple and Google is set to begin public trials on the Isle of Wright on Thursday, the BBC reported.

One area of concern for the NHS remains accuracy of exposure notification, since past tests have run into problems with the system falsely flagging when people are within 2 meters of each other.

The UK government intends to launch the public trials "without much fanfare," since it isn't clear when a finished version will be ready to deploy to the public.

"The app should enable us to return to more normal daily activities with the reassurance that our contacts can be rapidly and anonymously notified if we get infected," said Christophe Fraser, an Oxford University professor and a scientific advisor to the Department of Health.

In June, the U.K.'s contract tracing plans were said to be in "disarray" due to an apparent lack of communication with Apple and Google.

The switch to the Apple-Google API in June appears to be largely because of the strict privacy controls that Apple devices have. The NHSX's proprietary contact tracing software only detected 4% of nearby iPhones.

At the time, NHS officials said they were working on a model that would "bring the best bits of both systems." Apple later stated that they didn't know "what they mean by this hybrid model" since the officials didn't speak to the Silicon Valley giant.