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£240k to kickstart contact tracing app

£240k to kickstart contact tracing app

Thursday 06 August 2020

£240k to kickstart contact tracing app


Jersey could soon have a contact tracing app after the Treasury Minister agreed to release over £240,000 to kickstart the project.

At the moment, the close contacts of all positive cases – most of which are currently being identified through arrivals screenings at the borders – are tracked down with the help of a 55-strong team of civil servants.

Cafés, restaurants and pubs have all been encouraged to help with the effort by taking customers’ details

But it’s believed a dedicated contact tracing app would bypass this need and make the whole process more efficient.

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Pictured: An example of a manual contact tracing form.

The apps, which need to used by a significant majority of the population to be effective, record proximity with other app users and anonymously log that contact within a database.

If an individual is later diagnosed with covid-19, the app will then alert those who have been in close proximity to them, informing them of the next steps to take.

The intention is to warn people who may be infected before they become symptomatic, and help them avoid passing the illness to more people. 

It’s therefore believed that such a solution could be key in striking the delicate balance of further loosening the borders without risking a sudden and uncontrolled spike in cases.

The idea of an app has been on the table for a long time.

Video: How contract tracing apps work. (TLDR News/YouTube)

More than three months ago, government officials said that Digital Jersey experts were weighing up the pros and cons of two existing apps – NHSX by the UK Government, and an alternative collaboration between Apple and Google – against the idea of the island creating its own.

Progress on the idea stopped in June, however.

The Chief Minister explained in response to questions from Express at the time that the project had hit a hurdle as the government grappled with whether there should be a centralised database of individuals. He added that the government’s preference would be not to have one, and that they were closely examining “what the likes of Google and Apple are producing”.

As of last week, however, the project is moving again - though It’s unclear exactly which solution has been chosen as the frontrunner.

A report published yesterday shows that Treasury Minister Deputy Susie Pinel signed off on handing £244,420 to the app project team on 29 July.

The Ministerial Decision came following the creation of a business case, which first went before an internal advisory panel known as the ‘Investment Appraisal Team’.

They recommended it to the Treasury Minister for approval, but noted that specific procurement exemptions – a way of bypassing normal process for speed – need to be set in stone and agreed.

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Pictured: More than £240,000 has been released to fund the app.

The team added that a “launch and communication plan” would be needed to support the app, and that the cost of this should be met from within the provided funding.

The app forms part of what’s being described as ‘Phase 2’ of the government’s ‘Test and Tracing Programme.

The Minister agreed to spending of up to £5.5m on Phase 1, £1.7m on serology testing kits and £718,000 for antibody tests made by Healgen.

As part of Phase 2, £756,000 has also been released to increase on-island testing capacity with the help of a new self-contained lab. 

There are currently seven active cases of covid officially recorded on the island – all of which were detected via arrivals screening, which has seen more than 21,000 passengers arriving in Jersey tested since Friday 3 July.

Two of the seven individuals with the illness are showing symptoms, while the other five are not.

The current seven-day average time taken between a passenger arriving in Jersey and receiving their border testing result is 29 hours.

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