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NHS Scotland has teamed up with Microsoft to develop a new COVID-19 track and trace system as coronavirus-related restrictions begin to ease.

The solution uses QR codes that, when scanned with a device, take the user to a secure Government website where they can submit their name and contact details. An app has also been created that enables people to save their details for ease of use in future.

Restrictions put in place to combat the spread of coronavirus are beginning to lift across Scotland and the rest of the UK. With more people visiting pubs and restaurants, the NHS needed a solution that allows it to quickly understand where people newly-diagnosed with COVID-19 have visited.

Deryck Mitchelson, director of digital and security at NHS Scotland, said: “The collection of contact information is required by the Scottish government as part of their efforts to tackle the spread of COVID-19. 

“However, many businesses are ill-equipped to handle the collection of that data, the security that needs to be in place to handle it and searching through it when NHS Scotland needs to trace someone. Some were using pen and paper to record that information, which isn’t ideal.”

The QR code solution is seamless and removes all that work from business owners, according to Mitchelson. 

“They register for the initiative and place the QR code poster in their workspace where customers can scan it,” he explained. “They don’t have to do anything else, and can focus on providing great service.”

Without the QR code, tracing a COVID-19 patient is a slow and unreliable manual process. NHS tracers call businesses that the patient has visited. The businesses then need to find that person’s contact details, as well as the details of everyone else who was there that day, and pass them back to the NHS so the task of tracing those people can begin.

Mitchelson added: “We know that a delay in contact tracing can help the spread of the virus. If it takes three days to get in contact with someone, they could have the virus and be potentially spreading it. If a patient has scanned a QR code, we can understand where they have been within minutes. The quicker you track and trace, the quicker you can break the transmission chain.”

The contact information from the QR codes goes straight into NHS Scotland’s cloud-based data lake that runs on Microsoft Azure. That data is fully encrypted and only available to NHS Scotland contact tracers who have the right digital key. 

They must get approval to access the data, and can only view the information they have asked to see. The system is fully auditable and shows what information was accessed and when. After a certain number of days, the data is automatically deleted.

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