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NHS COVID-19 app is sending random alerts — here’s why you shouldn’t panic

NHS COVID-19 app
(Image credit: NHS)

It’s been a long time coming, and a very uneven journey, but as of a few weeks ago the U.K. has a mobile app that can help track whether you’ve come into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Unfortunately, things aren’t completely perfect.

While not a major issue, a large number of users are reporting that the app is sending them random alerts that disappear almost as quickly as they appear. But there’s no need for you to panic.

Some users have been reporting that their phones are flashing up a notification claiming someone they had been near reported having COVID-19, with exposure date, duration, and signal strength being saved. But when users clicked the notification it didn’t actually do anything.

Evidently, these notifications have arisen because phones have detected someone within Bluetooth range that reported COVID-19 symptoms. But the NHS app’s algorithm determined these events weren’t important because the two people weren’t in close proximity for long enough. According to the FAQ page, importance is determined by being within two meters of someone for at least 15 minutes.

Really the alert just shows the tracking system is working, even if these notifications weren’t actually supposed to be going out to people.

The Department of Health has emphasized that it’s aware of the issue, but that people don’t need to panic. You should only be concerned if the app says you need to self-isolate for 14 days or that a location you recently visited has been labeled a “virus hotspot.” What’s more, important alerts will also appear in the app itself, so don’t let any vanishing alerts get you worked up.

The Department of Health claims the alerts are not an issue with the app itself – rather it’s a problem with the underlying system developed by Apple and Google. Fortunately, it says a fix is in the works. So let’s hope it’ll be rolled out soon. For the sake of our anxiety levels, more than anything else.