Protect Scotland Covid app sensitivity the 'same' as English version despite fewer 'pings'

Concerns the Scottish contact tracing app is less sensitive than its English counterpart is unfounded, the Scottish Government has said.

Around 50,000 people in total have been contacted through Scotland’s app since its launch last year – a direct comparison to the more than 500,000 a week for the English app.

Opposition politicians had raised concerns this meant the Protect Scotland app – which cost around £450,000 to develop and run – was not working as intended.

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The Protect Scotland app from NHS Scotland has come under scrutiny

However, speaking to a Covid-19 briefing, Nicola Sturgeon said the app had the “same degree” of sensitivity” and there was no reason for it to be pinging proportionately fewer people than in England.

Deputy chief medical officer, Dr Nicola Steedman, said while the method used by the two apps were different, they both had the same level of sensitivity.

The First Minister said: “As far as I am aware it has the same degree of sensitivity and therefore there would be no reason why it was pinging less people than in England.

"After a period where the opposite was true, just to be clear about that, we are now in a position where case rates are lower than in England. That means there will be fewer people testing positive for Covid, it follows that there are fewer people being asked to self-isolate.”

She went on to say that she understood the “hugely disruptive” requirement to self-isolate and recognised “angst” around the so-called “pingdemics”.

The SNP leader said: “It is not the app that is causing the problem, it is the virus causing the problem, and the more we get case rates down, the more we’ll get the numbers being asked to self-isolate down.

“But while we have levels of the virus as they are just now, self-isolation is a really important thing for everybody to be doing to try to limit transmission."

Dr Steedman said the Scottish app did not use the same “complex algorithm” that was the basis of the English app and urged Scots to keep using it and not delete or disable the software.

She said: “We do use a different type of calculation for proximity contacts. Now that is not to say that ours is less sensitive, it is just that theirs is done on a complex algorithm whereas ours takes a particular distance and time and it’s more simple in that way.

"I don’t think that in any way decreases the sensitivity of it.

"The app is there for a good reason. It is there to let people know that they might have been at risk and now, of course, anyone who is identified as a contact, we are recommending that they get tested.

"There is a very good reason to alert your contacts through the app, no-one will know that it’s you. It’s all completely anonymous and you are actually doing them a huge service of allowing them to get themselves tested and allowing them to go on to protect other people if they have been at risk.”

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