Health Minister Robin Swann and Commissioner for Children and Young People Koulla Yiasouma have jointly welcomed the work to develop a new version of the StopCOVID NI app for under-18s.

The Department of Health is targeting the launch of the new version before the end of September. It will help schools, FE colleges and universities to provide additional protection to their students and staff.

The Department of Health has engaged with the NI Commissioner for Children and Young People and the Information Commissioner’s Office throughout the development of this version of the app.

The design will include a tailored on-boarding process, age appropriate information and encouragement throughout all stages to speak to a parent or guardian. Children will be able to use the app in a way that ensures anonymity and allows them to play their part in preventing the onward spread of Covid-19.

The process to design this new version has involved close work with young people and public/patient representative groups to ensure that it is fit for purpose. It is being developed reflecting the views of young people, following focus group work and user testing.

Ms Yiasouma, the NI Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) has praised the work undertaken in consulting with a range of young people, aged 11-17, from diverse backgrounds. She added: “This is an excellent piece of work undertaken within a short time and provides a clear framework for next steps. The young people have said that there must be clear messages on the purpose of the app, data collection and tracking.”

Dan West, Department of Health Chief Digital Information Officer said: “We are working alongside colleagues in the education sector to get ready for the launch of this new version. We know that this is a big step forward for government digital tools for this age group, but we also know that we have to be careful in how we collaborate with schools and other organisations to get this right for our young people, and make the biggest impact we can on the increasing prevalence of the virus.”

The number of people downloading the app is continuing to grow steadily, with over 350,000 users. The number of people receiving alerts that they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive is also increasing recently. Over 1,000 people have been alerted that they are at risk, with the potential for this to have broken transmission chains involving multiples of this number, and avoid outbreaks.

A recent issue where some users received a confusing message on their phones has now been resolved. These ‘Covid-19 Exposure Logging’ messages came from the Apple iOS and Google Android operating systems rather than the NI app itself.

Both these operating systems have been updated to clarify the messages and alerts that they provide to users. Users can be assured that after a close contact the only call to action they will receive will come from the StopCOVIDNI app. People using the app are advised to make sure that they have updated their phone to the latest operating system to get the best out of the app.