NHS Covid app 'looking at adding vaccination status onto software'

NHS Covid app 'looking at adding vaccination status onto software'

NHS Covid tracing app ‘has looked at adding vaccination status onto its software’ amid calls for PM to bring in passports to help open clubs, cinemas and theatres

  • Source close to NHS app says it would be ‘negligent’ not to include vaccine data  
  • The Government has so far said it has no plans to introduce a passport scheme
  • Ministers have also reportedly urged Boris Johnson to consider jab certificates 

The NHS Covid contact-tracing app has looked at adding inoculation status onto its software, it was revealed today.

Amid calls for No10 to bring in vaccine passports, developers claim to have explored options that would let users upload their vaccination status directly onto the app. 

Thousands of pubs, bars and restaurants asked users to check-in with the app during the summer. It tells Brits when they have come into contact with infected people and need to self-isolate. 

The Government has so far denied it has plans to introduce a passport scheme, with vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi describing their use as ‘wrong’ and ‘discriminatory’.

But senior ministers have urged Boris Johnson to consider vaccination certificates in order to help breathe life back into the crippled hospitality industry.

Downing Street has insisted ministers have ‘no plans’ to use the test and trace app to make people prove they have taken the vaccine.

But a source close to the project told The Times: ‘We would be negligent if we would not look into integration of vaccination data into the app.’

A move to use vaccination data in the app — which has been downloaded 22million times — would face scrutiny from privacy campaigners. 

The Government has looked at adding vaccination status onto its NHS Covid test and trace app

Cyber security experts say incorporating data on jabs could damage the privacy-protecting aspects of the app, which include the anonymity of users.

Scanning into a pub with the app in its current form does not share any data with the venue. 

But if Covid vaccination data was added, users would risk handing over their identity to venues as soon as they enter. 

Professor Alan Woodward, a cybersecurity expert at the University of Surrey, told The Times: ‘Even if the app just provides a unique code that shows you have been vaccinated when you enter a venue, that still has to be cross referenced to a database that has enough data to uniquely identify you.’ 

The Department of Health said it is ‘always looking at ways technology can support the pandemic response’.

But it added the Government has ‘no plans to incorporate vaccination data into the NHS Covid-19 app or to introduce domestic immunity certificates’.

Developers are looking into how people could upload their vaccination status using the app’s current software, raising the issue of protecting user’s privacy when checking into a venue

It said: ‘As with other vaccination programmes, a vaccine record card will be issued to patients with the relevant details about the vaccine including the date of their vaccination and their vaccine type. 

‘It is not intended to be used as an immunity certificate.’

The NHS Covid app, which is for residents of England and Wales, uses Bluetooth on smartphones to keep an anonymous log of other app users that an individual comes into contact with, informing them if they have been near someone who tests positive for the virus and what to do next 

Department of Health bosses revealed last week the application had pushed alerts to 1.7million of its users since it launched in September.  

Some 60 per cent of the adult population in England and Wales have signed up to the service but No10 has refused to say how many are active users. 

Analysis by Oxford University also published last week found the app had prevented almost 600,000 cases. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock praised the app as an ‘important tool’ and said it was ‘hugely effective at breaking chains of transmission’.

Mr Hancock himself was forced to self-isolate last month after being pinged by the application for a potential exposure to the disease. 

It comes as companies began drafting ‘no jab, no job’ contracts to force staff to get Covid-19 vaccinations – despite lawyers warning they likely to be challenged in court.

Bosses in the care home sector as well as large international groups including an energy firm are making ‘risky’ arrangements by insisting staff must be jabbed, top lawyers warned.

The move could mean both prospective and current employees would need to have the coronavirus vaccine to work at an organisation.

Asked about businesses who introduce a scheme, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said it was ‘up to them’. 

Pimlico Plumbers also said it would have a ‘no jab, no job’ attitude towards new workers, the FT reports.

The newspaper spoke to law firms – which refused to be named – which said some companies were already looking at getting current employees vaccinated.

A lawyer in the City of London said putting clauses in contracts to force people to be jabbed was risky but easier to defend in the care sector to protect patients.

Another said some multinational companies – such as a large energy firm – are considering the idea.

Mr Zahawi said yesterday that the Government was ‘not planning a domestic passport’.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘It’s up to businesses what they do, but we don’t yet have the evidence of the effect of vaccines on transmission.’

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab made a U-turn on passports on Monday after he suggested documents could be required before going into shops the day before.

Mr Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday: ‘It’s a combination of rapid testing as well as the mass vaccination programme that will get our economy back on its feet and venues open again.’

Staff will still be told not to return to their offices even as infections fall and Covid-19 restrictions are lifted

Office staff are set to be told to keep working from home even as other lockdown restrictions are eased, the Daily Mail can reveal.

Boris Johnson is not expected to give a firm date for when workers will return to their desks as he unveils his plans for a return to normality on Monday.

It means the ‘work from home if you can’ message will continue to guide employers for the foreseeable future.

But ahead of any return, companies are reportedly drafting ‘no jab, no job’ contracts to force staff to get Covid-19 vaccinations.

Bosses in the care home sector as well as large international groups including an energy firm are making arrangements, top lawyers warned.

It comes as it emerged all adults could be offered two jabs by August because supplies are surging.

Many large firms have already told staff they should work remotely, with some even delaying a return to the office until at least the end of the year.

However, some studies claim that productivity is hampered as workers log in from their kitchen table rather than at their desk.

Tory MPs urged the Government last night to provide clarity on when staff might be able to return to their offices.

Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘We need to get people back to work as soon as possible.

‘There are lots of reasons why work is important to our lives. It affects people’s physical and mental wellbeing and there are issues around productivity.

‘I would like to see as much detail as possible in the road map to help people to make plans. They need to know in advance.’

The message to work from home was introduced at the beginning of the first lockdown last March.

But as the surge in Covid cases eased over the summer, it was changed to urge employees to return to their offices to get Britain working again, sparking fury from Labour MPs and unions.

Announcing the third national lockdown at the beginning of this year, the PM said people should go into work only if they ‘absolutely’ could not work from home. 

Meanwhile, senior ministers have reportedly urged Boris Johnson to look into Covid certificate schemes as a way of getting clubs, cinemas and theatres reopened.   

One senior minister told the Times: ‘We’re talking about industries that are dying here.  

‘In terms of getting live music, theatre and other parts of the entertainment industry back on their feet, it seems an obvious thing to do once the majority of people have been vaccinated.’

However, Mr Johnson is said to oppose Covid passports amid fears that millions of Britons could be cut off from the rest of the population – creating a ‘two tier’ society.

And government sources last night told the Times setting up such a system would be a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’. 

It comes as it was today revealed the government is preparing a roadmap out of lockdown with curbs on pubs, restaurants and hotels eased at four-weekly intervals starting with a ‘limited’ Easter holiday – but it could take until July to return to ‘broadly normal’.  

The blueprint being discussed by ministers and industry leaders would allow restrictions to be eased only at four-weekly intervals.

The gradual approach means traders will have to wait until at least Easter – early April – for a limited restart.

This is likely to include the reopening of holiday lets and larger hotels, with dining rooms still closed. Sports such as golf and tennis could resume.

Pubs, bars and restaurants will have to wait until early May under the plans, with a maximum of two households allowed to sit together indoors and the rule of six applying outside.

The next stage, in early June, would see the rules for pubs and restaurants relaxed with the rule of six extended indoors.

The hospitality and domestic holiday industries could be allowed to return to normal in July – with social distancing.

It comes as the government is set to unveil a new slogan and the PM plans to send testing kits to millions of homes and businesses as lockdown is eased.

‘Are you ready? Get testing. Go’ will reportedly be a new campaign launched ahead of the reopening of schools next month.

Ministers will not make a final decision on the roadmap timetable until this weekend when they are presented with the latest data on the spread of the virus.

Boris Johnson will unveil the plan on Monday. But the blueprint is the most detailed outline of the Government’s thinking so far. 

It appears to confirm that – contrary to the demands of some Tory MPs – the Prime Minister is determined to be cautious, with plenty of ‘headroom’ to adjust to any resurgence of the virus.

The fact that the rule of six and social distancing are expected to remain in force until well into the summer indicates the extent of the worries over new mutations.

The Mail can also reveal that office staff are expected to be told to keep working from home when the Prime Minister unveils his roadmap.

He is not expected to set a firm date for when employees should return to their desks, meaning that the ‘work from home if you can’ message will continue for the foreseeable future. 

Vaccine passports ‘would come with data privacy risks’

The head of the UK’s data privacy watchdog has told MPs she can see the benefit of Covid-19 immunity passports, but warned they came with privacy concerns.

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham was asked by MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation about the possible use of special passports to allow those who had been vaccinated to move more freely.

She said any such scheme would face substantial questions over its necessity and concerns over the sharing of health data, but warned of creating a ‘two-tier system’ where people who have received a vaccine have more freedoms than those who have not.

‘We would approach a detailed proposal around a vaccination passport or a freedom passport in the way that we do any initiative.

‘That is, is it necessary? Does it work – does it do what it says on the tin? Is it proportionate? And is there transparency?’ she told MPs.

‘We’re talking about personal health information, which is a special category of data that requires controls.

‘So at the outset, we would ask the Government the same questions that we asked them about the contact tracing app.

‘I think with immunity passports, some of the issues are beyond data protection.

‘They touch on human rights, they touch on whether or not we’re going to create a two-tier society based on whether you have a jab in the arm, and the concerns over whether or not this is ‘identity by the back door’.

‘So those are some of the concerns I would have.

‘When we start talking about immunity passports that are digital or tacked on to the contact tracing application then I think those are real questions for policymakers.’

She added that trust in the system among the public would be vital.

‘I could see that vaccine passports, of some sort, would be useful. I can see that,’ she said.

‘But people have to trust the Government when they bring in these initiatives to understand what’s the purpose, to narrow it as much as possible, and make sure at the end of the day, that their civil liberties, human rights and data protection are respected.’

 

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