New Trials in England for Troubled Virus Tracing App


A previously misfiring smartphone app to help track transmission of the coronavirus will be trialled again in parts of England following two months of troubleshooting, the government said on Thursday.

The updated version of the tracing app will undergo renewed trials on the Isle of Wight, off the southern English coast, and among health volunteers nationwide, ahead of further tests in an east London district.

The UK government halted the rollout of the app in June and switched to technology developed by Apple and Google in an embarrassing U-turn after it encountered major problems with its own approach.

Critics argued it should have embraced the US technology much earlier instead of trying to persevere with its own more centralised data collection system despite warnings it would be less effective.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Thursday that officials had collaborated widely, including with countries around the world, such as Germany, adopting similar tools to develop a “state-of-the-art” app.

“We’ve worked with tech companies, international partners, privacy and medical experts to develop an app that is simple to use, secure and will help keep the country safe,” he added in a statement.

Hancock first suggested the tool would be available in mid-May, but the project was beset by problems and no target date has been set for its introduction.

The reworked version uses an Apple and Google-developed system, already adopted in several countries, which handles data in a more privacy-friendly way than the government’s own earlier effort.

It utilises Bluetooth technology to keep an anonymous log of close contact between users and can alert them if they need to self-isolate.

The English app can also let users know the level of coronavirus risk in their districts, as well as allowing people to use check-in codes at venues and locations.

Health officials hope successful trials will allow them to integrate the tool into a broader testing and tracing scheme launched earlier in the summer.

It has reached more than 250,000 people since then, the Department of Health said Thursday, but critics argue it is still failing to contact too many potential cases.

Britain has been the worst-hit country in Europe by COVID-19, recording more than 41,000 deaths according to government statistics, which were revised on Wednesday and cut the toll by around 5,000.

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© AFP 2020

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