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The NHS coronavirus contact tracing app appears to be delayed after Downing Street said it would be rolled out across the country “in the coming weeks”.
Health secretary Matt Hancock had previously said he expected the app to be available across England from “mid-May”.
The apparent slipping of the timetable comes after HuffPost UK revealed that applicants for government contact tracing jobs were told their recruitment was being put “on hold” due to a “delay in the launch of the track and trace app”.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said on Monday he was “absolutely confident” that 18,000 contact tracers would be hired by the end of this week - more than 17,000 have already been recruited.
But they suggested the timescale for introducing the app, which was developed by NHSX and is being trialled in the Isle of Wight, had slipped, telling reporters: “It remains our aim to roll out the app across the country in the coming weeks.”
Asked whether the app had been delayed or Hancock had incorrectly stated government policy, the spokesman said: “We set out that we would have 18,000 tracers in place and I am confident that will happen.”
The government can still introduce tracking and tracing of people with coronavirus without the app, the spokesperson said.
“When it comes to track and trace you will have to look a little bit longer for us to set out the full detail but it’s certainly possible for that to happen,” they said.
“It is possible to do track and trace work separately to the app.”
The introduction of a track and trace scheme is set to play an important role in any further lifting of the lockdown, with June 1 pencilled in for more potential easing of restrictions.
There have now been more than 60,000 downloads of the app on the Isle of Wight.
The government has however faced criticism for adopting a “centralised” app model which has sparked concerns about privacy.
There has been speculation that it may be forced to ditch the approach in favour of the “decentralised” model supported by Apple and Google, which stores data about people’s movements on their phone rather than centrally with the government.
Eight days ago, communities secretary Robert Jenrick said the government was “learning lessons from other apps”, adding: “If we need to change our app we will do”.
But he denied that the government was developing a second app, insisting it was simply “paying attention to the other apps that exist elsewhere in the world”.
“If we need to adapt our app or move to a different model, obviously we will do,” he told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.