Government confirms NHS app will offer contact tracing, after originally saying it wouldn't
After promising us a world-beating app what feels like years ago, the government and NHS are set to launch their track and trace app this Thursday, months after its expected arrival and as the UK faces the prospect of a national curfew.
The app was promised to be functional over four months ago after Matt Hancock announced plans to launch the app at a daily press conference. The government originally said the app that's set to launch later this week wouldn't even be able to contact trace.
NEW: Downing St tell us that from Thursday people in England will be able to download a Coronavirus app...to check and report symptoms, book a test, find out if you tested positive or not. It won't do contact tracing.
— Chris Mason (@ChrisMasonBBC) September 21, 2020
A government spokesman incorrectly stated the track and trace app will simply allow people to report symptoms, find a test near them, get their test results and give contact details to businesses. A spokesman for Number 10 said: “It will provide for an easy and accessible way of providing information about where you have been.”
But after this announcement, officials from The Department of Health rushed to contradict the Number 10 spokesman and reassure the public that the app would in fact offer contact tracing.
When the app eventually launches on Thursday, it will need to be downloaded on over 60% of the population's phones in order to prove effective. Initial trials of the contact tracing app were due to take place on the Isle of Wight back in May, with Matt Hancock promising it would be rolled out later that month. Trials on the island gave mixed results, with thousands downloading the app, but notifications not always coming through.
Successful track and trace apps work by using bluetooth on smartphones to communicate when a user has been in proximity with someone who has tested positive for the virus and alerting all their contacts.
Back when the app was first promised, the government also refused to work with technology giants Apple and Google to use the app they were already developing in tandem with other countries' departments of health.
Some confusion after Number 10 briefing suggested the contact tracing app would not do contact tracing - I've had it confirmed that it will by DHSC
— Rory Cellan-Jones (@ruskin147) September 21, 2020