Secretary of Labor and Pensions Therese Coffey said it was not a “condition” for the application to be operational before the English primaries returned from June 1.
His statement will add fuel to the dispute between unions and teachers over whether it is safe to send the children back to school.
The government’s own directives, dated May 12, indicate that tracking and tracing will “play an important role” in preventing further epidemics of the deadly virus.
And the key element of this program is the app – which will work with 21,000 contact tracers to ensure that those who have been exposed isolate themselves quickly.
However, the government has admitted that the launch of the app is delayed from mid-May to “the weeks to come” – perhaps after June 1.
This prompted calls to guarantee that schools would remain closed until the app was launched.
But Boris Johnson’s deputy Dominic Raab refused to give the guarantee last night.
Instead, he said, “All of these steps are a balanced assessment, not only of one or the other element, but in particular of the R level and prevalence of the coronavirus.
“We are still planning to deploy it across the country so that everyone can use it in the coming weeks. I can’t be more specific at this point. ”
And today, another cabinet minister, Therese Coffey, confirmed that the app may not be ready when primary schools reopen.
The Secretary of Labor and Pensions told the BBC Breakfast: “I am not aware that this has been defined as a necessary condition for the gradual reopening of primary schools.
Confirming that the application is delayed, she added, “It is better that the application is as good as possible, rather than rushing an application and modifying it.
“It is therefore important that the trial, this pilot on the Isle of Wight, be allowed to take place over its entire length, which is necessary rather than perhaps the deadline set by the Secretary of Health. “
Shadow Education Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey castigated the decision.
She told the BBC: “If the government wants to have a target date for the reopening of schools, then we need to be assured that the testing, tracking and tracing is operational and that it has been proven to work before move on to a larger reopening. schools. ”
Some elements of the tracking and tracing program may be in place by June 1, but not the app – which will be the only way to keep up with the vast majority of cases.
Primary schools in England are already open, but only for children of key workers or vulnerable children.
All pupils should start to return from June 1 from years R, 1 and 6 – with medium-sized classes, one-way corridors and staggered breaks.
The crèches and day nurseries should also reopen despite the fact that the government accepts that children are not always separated by two meters.
But at least half a dozen boards, including Liverpool and Hartlepool, warned that they could defy orders and keep schools closed.
Unions are still waiting for the government’s full scientific evidence to be presented this week.
Downing Street announced yesterday that any decision to withdraw from June 1 would likely be made this week.
But Boris Johnson’s spokesperson insisted, “We must be aware of the potential damage to a child’s education not to bring them back to class. “
The spokesperson stressed that the date was June 1 “as soon as possible” and added: “We are working to resolve this problem as soon as possible. “
The government says it wants to work constructively with unions – but has not ruled out “penalizing” teachers and boards who refuse to reopen classes.
Scientific evidence is still emerging but so far shows that children can be infected with the coronavirus, perhaps as easily as adults.
However, some early data suggest that children can transmit the virus less than adults. And children get less seriously ill on average once they have it.