The British government admitted on Monday that its coronavirus tracking application had been delayed, having missed its deadline for a national deployment by mid-May.
The NHS has developed its own application to find the contacts of those who are positive for the coronavirus or who are suspected of having the disease; the program is currently being tested on the Isle of Wight.
It is slated to roll out to the rest of the UK by “mid-May,” but Downing Street said on Monday that the technology may not be ready for a few weeks.
Tracking applications and generalized testing have become important tools for governments around the world as they relax lock-in restrictions to boost economic activity while avoiding a second spike in infections.
Later Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that screening for coronaviruses would be open to anyone in the UK over the age of five. He said the broader testing regime would mean “more and more people will have the confidence and certainty that come with an accurate test result.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson declined to explain why the mid-May target – set by Hancock – had been missed and declined to say when the NHS application would be ready for full operational use. “Our goal is still to roll out the app across the country in the coming weeks,” he said.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, “We are still planning to deploy across the country in the coming weeks. We are progressing quite well with it. I can’t be more specific than that. “
Downing Street also refused to rule out the possibility that Britain could change lanes from its local solution – developed by NHSX, the digital branch of the health service – in favor of an alternative platform developed by Google and Apple.
While the UK solution relies on a centralized database for storing personal data, the Google and Apple system is largely decentralized and prevents the collection of additional data, such as location, which could be used to identify individuals.
US technology companies are working with health authorities in several European countries, including Germany and Italy, to integrate contact finder technology into their mobile operating systems.
When asked to reconfigure the NHS app to use Google and Apple’s technology, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said the government was keeping “all options under consideration to ensure that the application is as effective as possible. “
It is unclear what changed to delay the deployment of the NHS application, which was to be ready to date.
But a senior health ministry official said the government “is still receiving feedback from the app” and that the rest of the follow-up regime is still on track. “
“The plan remains to move forward with the current centralized version of the application that works best for public health,” said the person.
The government’s plan to facilitate the foreclosure is expected to enter its next phase on June 1. Downing Street said on Monday that it was ready to proceed with a new “test and trace” system without the new app being available nationwide.
Hancock also said on Monday that 21,000 people had been recruited for an army of human research to contact and advise those who may be at risk of contracting the virus.