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Government in tracing app U-turn

THE NHS smartphone app that was said to be at the heart of Britain’s ‘world-beating’ contact tracing system is to be ditched after three months in development.

More than 60,000 people downloaded the app during its trial on the Isle of Wight and it was due to be rolled out nationwide in the middle of May.

In April, health secretary Matt Hancock described it as ‘crucial for holding down the rate and level of transmission’ of coronavirus.

But in another apparent U-turn, ministers are now switching to an alternative app developed by Google and Apple — widely used in other countries around the world — after the NHS version was plagued by technical problems and privacy concerns. ‘We’ve known since April that this app doesn’t work very well particularly on iPhones,’ said Michael Veale, a lecturer at University College London. ‘This is a welcome, if a heavily and unnecessarily delayed, move.’

The decision was revealed as the number of people who have died after testing positive for Covid-19 increased by another 135 to 42,288 — including a 13-day-old baby thought to be Britain’s youngest victim. Meanwhile, the government’s test and trace scheme is now finding 73 per cent of those who tested positive and 91 per cent of their contacts.

Yesterday, Mr Hancock refused to say when the app — which will use the ‘best bits’ of the NHS one and Google and Apple’s version — would be ready for roll-out.

‘We’re working on it and we’re not going to put a date on it because it has got to be working effectively,’ he said.

‘But I am confident we will get there and put that cherry on the cake.’

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth accused the government of ‘wasting precious time and money’.