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‘PM making it app as he goes along’: Starmer ridicules Johnson over track and tracing

Under fire: Boris Johnson at PMQs yesterday as Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer responds

BORIS JOHNSON was accused of not knowing his facts on coronavirus track and trace as he clashed with Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons yesterday.

The prime minister was asked by the Labour leader why the contact tracing phone app promised for the middle of May was now not due until this winter.

He retorted that no country in the world had a functioning app and challenged his opponent to name one.

Sir Keir promptly replied: ‘Germany — 12million downloads. I checked that overnight. When are we going to have a working app?’ The tool is supposed to harness GPS data in order to log which users have been in contact with each other. If one tests positive, the others can be automatically alerted.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said it would be ‘crucial for holding down the rate and the level of transmission’.

But the £11.8million project was ditched last week after it only found four per cent of contacts in trials on the Isle of Wight. An alternative designed by Google and Apple should be ready by winter but No.10 says the scheme is ‘no longer a priority’.

At prime minister’s questions, Sir Keir asked Mr Johnson: ‘Up until last week, the government maintained the app was critical. Is it critical or not?’

The PM pointed out 25,000 tracers have been tasked with contacting people and telling them to self-isolate.

Those who have tested positive give staff lists of places they have visited and friends they have seen.

‘We’ve always been clear that the app would be the icing on the cake,’ Mr Johnson insisted.

The tracers managed to ask 91 per cent of those testing positive — and 73 per cent of their contacts — to self-isolate in the scheme’s first two weeks.

But Sir Keir said the app was badly needed as an estimated two-thirds of new infections are going undiagnosed.

An app could automatically alert strangers that the person testing positive has been in contact with.

Germany’s version, which uses Apple and Google technology, launched on June 16. More than 1.5million people have downloaded France’s since June 2 and numerous other countries also have them.

But Downing Street claimed these apps did not ‘fully and reliably’ record contacts in a way that would let officials advise people to self-isolate.

Sir Keir’s spokesman said Mr Johnson’s Commons comments were: ‘Another example of a dodgy answer from a prime minister who wasn’t across the detail.’

The toll of people who have died after testing positive rose by 154 yesterday to reach 43,081.

Air bridges to countries ‘with tests as good as UK’

‘Massive priority’: Grant Shapps

QUARANTINE could be abolished for people travelling to any countries which are as good at testing and contact tracing as Britain, transport secretary Grant Shapps said yesterday.

Virtually everyone returning from abroad is currently required to self-isolate for 14 days, but ‘air bridges’ to certain countries are expected to be announced on Monday.

Mr Shapps told MPs they were a ‘massive priority’, adding: ‘We’ve the capacity to test far more than is immediately required. Does the country we’re talking to have that kind of capacity? Do they have something equivalent to our NHS test and trace?’