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The government’s coronavirus contact tracing app may not be ready until winter, a health minister has said.
Lord Bethell said the app, which has been beset by delays, was no longer a “priority” as people prefer human contact tracing through call centres.
HuffPost UK first revealed delays in the launch of the app last month.
Since then the government has pushed ahead with recruiting tens of thousands of human contact tracers, but even that programme will not be fully operational until the end of June.
Tracing people infected with coronavirus and their close contacts and asking them to self-isolate is seen as the key in successfully ending the lockdown while maintaining control of the virus.
But Lord Bethell said the app, piloted on the Isle of Wight to great fanfare from the government, was no longer a key part of the government’s contact tracing scheme.
He told the Commons science and technology committee: “We’re seeking to get something going before the winter, but it isn’t the priority for us at the moment.”
He added that the government was not feeling great time pressure over the app, and it did not want to “poison the pool” by rushing something out that isn’t “quite right”.
Under the new NHS Test and Trace system, individuals will be one phone call away from being told to self-isolate for up to a fortnight if a new army of 25,000 tracers identify them as having had “close contact” with others who have tested positive for the virus.
The programme defines “close contact” as being within two metres of someone for more than 15 minutes without any protection such as a plastic screen or protective equipment.
NHS contact tracers or local public health teams will ask anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 to share details of the people they have been in close contact with and places they have visited.
The “detective” team then emails or texts those close contacts, telling them they must stay at home for 14 days even if they have no symptoms, to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus.
Those who believe they have symptoms can book a test at nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling a new national helpline number, 119.