Covid-19 contact tracing app: how to download it, what it does and how to use it

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The long awaited Covid-19 contact tracing app is now ready to download for those in England and Wales.

It's available on both iOS and Android devices, and it allows you to scan QR codes to register your visits at locations such as pubs and restaurants.

It also allows you to use Bluetooth to monitor if you've come into contact with someone who has had a positive test. For this to work, you'll need to have a certain feature turned on and below we'll explain more.

How to download the Covid-19 contact tracing app

After an extensive testing period, the app is now ready to download for all those in England and Wales.

You can download the app for free, and it works on all recent smartphones that run iOS or Android.

If you're on an older device, you may not be able to download the app. The API that the app uses is created to only work with certain phones, so older phones are set to miss out.

Those with Android phones will find they're able to download the app if they have Android Marshmallow software running or above.

For those with iPhones, the iPhone 6 and below will not be able to download the app. The UK government recommends downloading iOS 13.5 (the oldest iPhone this is available for is the 6S) or above before downloading the new app for it to work in its optimum way too.

What about if I live in Scotland or Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland was the first part of the UK to gain access to a contact-tracing app back in August. If you live in Northern Ireland, you can download it on the Google Play Store or Apple App Store now.

Scotland's own contact-tracing app has been available to download since September 10. If you live in Scotland, you can download it on the Google Play Store or Apple App Store now.

Do I have to download this?

It isn't your legal requirement to download this app, but the more people that download it the more useful it should be at combating the pandemic across both England and Wales.

Will this use my mobile data?

No, the app shouldn't eat into your mobile data. If you're with Vodafone, Three, EE, O2, Sky Mobile or Virgin Mobile you'll be glad to know these networks have said they won't count any in-app activity against your data allowance.

That said, we haven't heard any official confirmation for any other networks so don't take this as a given if you're not with one of the networks you can see above. 

What is contact tracing and how to turn it on

(Image credit: NHS)

During the setup process, you'll be asked for the start of your postcode - this is to work out what region you are in - and some other details. We'd recommend filling these in as honestly as possible to help the system work as smoothly as it can.

You'll be asked to turn on Bluetooth for contact tracing, and we'd also recommend saying yes to this. It may have a slight negative impact on your battery life, but this is the feature that will help save lives and is core of this app.

It allows the system to monitor other users you've been nearby. If you've walked by someone in a shop who then tells the app five days later that they've tested positive for Covid-19 you'll get a notification to tell you to self isolate.

If you ever need to turn this feature off, you'll see a toggle at the bottom of the front page of the app. It'll give you a reminder for when you should turn it back on, but we'd recommend leaving this on at all times to help ensure the system works as smoothly as possible.

How to check-in with QR codes

Another element of the app is a "Venue Check In" system. When you arrive at a pub, restaurant or any other venue, you'll be asked to check-in, and now you can do that through this app.

There should be QR codes at most major venues, and you'll want to tap on the first option in the app to scan them. 

Allow the app access to your camera - something that's necessary for this to work - and then hold your camera up to the QR code. You'll then have to enter some details, but this should be a touch smoother than existing systems in public places.

What data does the app have access to?

The app doesn't store or share any identifiable data with either the NHS or other services. It also doesn't monitor your location using GPS.

You'll be asked to share the first part of your postcode to identify your general location. This is thought to be so the NHS can work out where the app has been downloaded most, and so it can give you an answer to how high risk your local area is.

It'll ask for access to your Bluetooth features as well as your camera, if you're using the QR code feature, but otherwise you won't be asked to provide any other personal data.

James Peckham

James is the Editor-in-Chief at Android Police. Previously, he was Senior Phones Editor for TechRadar, and he has covered smartphones and the mobile space for the best part of a decade bringing you news on all the big announcements from top manufacturers making mobile phones and other portable gadgets. James is often testing out and reviewing the latest and greatest mobile phones, smartwatches, tablets, virtual reality headsets, fitness trackers and more. He once fell over.