UK to launch contact tracing app 'when the time is right', says Matt Hancock

Apple and Google Logo
Apple and Google Logo (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • Matt Hancock says the NHS contact tracing app will be launched "when the time is right".
  • The app has been delayed from mid-May, and is still on trial in the Isle of Wight.
  • That trial was only supposed to last three weeks, and the app is supposed to be a key part of the UK response.

Matt Hancock has told The Telegraph that the NHS will launch its contact tracing app "when the time is right", even though that was weeks ago.

A new report today states:

Hancock told The Telegraph on Wednesday that "the app is progressing but we'll launch it when the time is right". He added that the app is the "cherry on the cake" of the government track and trace system, and very much complementary to human contact tracing efforts.

As the report notes, the app was rolled out for trial on May 4 on the Isle of Wight, a test run that was supposed to last three weeks. The trial is still ongoing and an update is due to roll out this week.

The UK government has plowed ahead with a centralized contact tracing system, despite the limitations this puts on the app, in particular when running on iOS. One source close to the project reportedly said:

"Knowing the details of how complex and challenging these programmes are, I don't believe any deadline statements anymore made by any politician"

The app has gone from a highly touted "key part" of the UK's response to COVID-19, to a "cherry on the cake" of a larger, human-based contact tracing program. Despite the government's best efforts to gloss over the debacle, it is clear that the app is simply behind schedule and the government is trying to reframe its importance accordingly.

According to the report, the government plans to stick with its original, centralized system, despite reports it was flirting with switching to Apple and Google's framework. With an updated version going out to Isle of Wight residents this week, there is no end in sight to the testing phase, and some Downing Street advisors are apparently "demanding another look at alternatives" to avoid further delay.

Stephen Warwick