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England launches COVID-19 app to boost contact tracing

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said it will launch a new COVID-19 app across England and Wales later this month which will allow people to use QR codes when they enter venues, boosting the country’s contact tracing to help keep the spread of the virus in check.

With cases rising, Health Minister Matt Hancock said the new app would help NHS (National Health Service) Test and Trace, the scheme used in England to contact those who have been in contact with a COVID-infected person, to reach more people.

“The launch of the app later this month across England and Wales is a defining moment and will aid our ability to contain the virus at a critical time,” he said in a statement on Friday.

Previous attempts to develop more sophisticated tracing apps have struggled to expand beyond the pilot stage, and the government has faced criticism after missing launch deadlines.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has banned groups of more than six people from meeting from Monday as the government tries to keep the spread of the virus under control amid a sharp rise in cases in recent days.

The UK recorded 2,919 new daily confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, and cases have started to track much higher than the levels of around 1,000 per day recorded in August.

The new app will be officially launched on 24 September, and available for pubs, restaurants, cinemas, hairdressers and other venues and their customers to download.

People visiting a venue will check-in by scanning a QR code displayed at the entrance on their mobile phone which can in turn be used by NHS Test and Trace to contact them to tell them to self-isolate in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

The use of QR codes will replace the current system whereby people have to manually fill in their contact details when they enter a venue.

Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by William James