Newham test and trace app was designed by man who grew up in the borough

Randeep Sidhu designed the test and trace app being rolled out across Newham today (August 21). Pict

Randeep Sidhu designed the test and trace app being rolled out across Newham today (August 21). Picture: Nathan Dainty - Credit: Archant

The man who designed the latest test and trace app, which is being trialled in the borough, grew up in Newham.

Randeep Sidhu is head of product for the NHS initiative which launches across the borough today (August 21).

Mr Sidhu, speaking to the Recorder, said: “We’ve been working really hard to try and build something that helps the communities most affected by Covid.”

The version of the app being rolled out is “significantly different” to the one originally used in the Isle of Wight.

A self-confessed “complete geek”, Mr Sidhu explained that the Newham app includes exposure notifications API technology developed by Google and Apple.

“This meant we could do things in a fundamentally different way that was safer, more privacy preserving and, hopefully, less battery draining, more accessible, just better,” Mr Sidhu said.

He added that the app tracks the virus not the person, unlike the one originally used on the Isle of Wight. It doesn’t ask for a name, address or date of birth.

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Countries across the world including Germany and Denmark are using the same technology in their own apps, which have been approved by the tech giants.

The government’s cyber security team has also given it the green light.

“I’m a brown person who grew up in London. I have all the trauma and drama that comes with that. So I understand about concerns about privacy in my heart. In terms of how secure it is, I’m very comfortable,” Mr Sidhu said.

The app is open-source, which means its source code is available to the public.

The “tech obsessive” was born in Southall, but part raised in the borough. His uncle runs a greengrocer’s in Green Street.

“Newham is very close to my heart. I’ve been to every bit of it. This is both personal and professional pride to be able to both build something which helps the communities affected, but also work in Newham,” he said.

The borough had the highest Covid-19 death rate in May, according to the Office for National Statistics.

From today everyone in Newham will be sent an email or letter with a unique code allowing them to install the app on their smart phone.

The app provides infection spike alerts based on postcodes to warn if there is a rise in local infection rates and a digital QR check-in, which can be used at venues like restaurants, shops and pubs to register you have visited.

It has a symptom checker and link to allow easysaccess to coronavirus tests.

And there is a timer for people who are self-isolating to help count down that period.

The app will work alongside contact tracing and testing already offered in Newham.

It should alert you if you have been near someone who has tested positive for the virus and has the app.

It would be available in a number of languages, starting with English, Urdu, Punjabi, Bangla and Gujarati.

On how it can help anyone without a smart phone, Mr Sidhu said they would be protected by those around them who as a result of using it could avoid catching the virus.

“Absolutely, we should try and get this app into as many people’s hands as possible. But there is still a benefit of as many people as can using it.

“This app works. What we’re trying to understand is how it works in real users’ hands,” he added.

While the app will “hopefully” reduce the R-level – the average number of people one infected person will pass the virus on to – the trial’s purpose is to gauge its use.

On why Newham was chosen, Mr Sidhu said: “The mayor of Newham and Newham Council have been amazing. Rokhsana has been so supportive of this.

“They are working hand in hand with us to try and make sure we can reach groups.

“This is an opportunity for Newham to have a national, and potentially international, impact.

“This app is safe and secure. It does not track you, it tracks the virus. Dowloading and using it keeps you, your family and your community safe. Your doing this helps others,” Mr Sidhu added.