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Tracing app delayed but minister is ‘confident’

A TRACK and trace system to help keep coronavirus under control should be ready on time, a government minister has said after NHS leaders warned that details have still not been sorted out.

James Brokenshire said he remained ‘confident’ the system would be in place by June 1, when primary schools and some non-essential shops are expected to be allowed to reopen.

But he admitted the contact tracing phone app, which was supposed to be launched in mid-May, would not be ready by June 1 due to ‘technical issues’.

The app is designed to track every time that users have close contact with others who have it installed on their phone. If someone becomes infected, all the fellow users they have had contact with can be automatically alerted.

The government has also recruited 24,000 contact tracers who will ask infected people for a list of everyone they remember having contact with.

Security minister Mr Brokenshire said it would be safe for schools to reopen before the app is ready, as it was only a ‘supplement’ to tracking by workers.

‘We obviously want to see that the app is put in place well and effectively,’ he told Sky News. ‘But that should not stand in the way of the introduction of the track and trace arrangements.’

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said there should be no further easing of the lockdown unless a clear plan for track and trace has been introduced.

The government has been too slow to bring on board local officials who have experience of contact tracing, he said.

‘We are ten weeks into the pandemic, and developing a strategy with a well-worked-through local base should have been in place much sooner,’ he wrote to health secretary Matt Hancock.

‘If we do not rapidly instigate the right system, involving the right people, then the ramifications for the NHS, including its staff and its patients, could be severe.’