Matt Hancock 'not going to put a date on when Covid-19 tracing app' will be available

18 June 2020, 17:46

Matt Hancock took today's Downing Street press conferencce
Matt Hancock took today's Downing Street press conferencce. Picture: Downing Street

By Kate Buck

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has refused to give a date for the delayed coronavirus Test and Trace app to be completed.

Ministers have repeatedly said a contact tracing app is crucial in catching new cases and preventing a second peak.

But despite initially promising to have a "world class" app up and running by the middle of May, the government announced it was scrapping the current version of its Trace and Trace app.

Instead, it will be switching to a platform developed by Apple and Google.

Speaking at the Downing Street press conference today, Mr Hancock said: "We're working on it. We're not going to put a date on it I'm afraid because I'm absolutely determined that, whilst this technology can help, it's got to be working effectively.

"But I am confident we will get there."

Read more: Government ditches current Covid-19 app for Google-Apple model

The app does not have a date for its completion
The app does not have a date for its completion. Picture: PA

Mr Hancock also seemed to brush off criticism of the abandonment of the app, saying: "What matters is what works".

He added that the government had "agreed to join forces with Google and Apple to bring the best bits of both systems together."

Mr Hancock added the government took the decision in May to work on the Google and Apple version, and repeatedly said they had "backed both horses" in the work being done.

He said testing on the Isle of Wight uncovered a "technical barrier".

"We found that our app works well on Android devices but Apple software prevents iPhones being used effectively for contact tracing unless you are using Apple's own technology," he said.

He said that the NHSX app was better at measuring distance than the Google/Apple model.

"As it stands, our app won't work because Apple won't change their system, but it can measure distance.

"And their app can't measure distance well enough to a standard that we are satisfied with."

The Department of Health outlined the new approach on Thursday in what is seen as the latest in a string of government U-turns.

The Covid-19 contact-tracing app, which has been getting trialled on the Isle of Wight since the beginning of May, appears to have been switched with a more privacy-focused and decentralised model.

However, using technology companies in place of a centralised approach means epidemiologists will not have access to as much data.

Ministers had previously stressed that their model was superior to those being proposed by the tech giants, however a report by the Mirror suggests the NHSX app has run into "problems".

Mr Hancock said the NHS app had undergone "rigorous testing" and he remained "determined" to develop an app "which meets the technical, security and user needs of the public.