Back-to-basics Covid-19 app ready for launch after ‘test and trace’ scheme is scaled back

Mass testing and tracing was abandoned in March, and not restarted until the end of May, with the rollout of NHS Test and Trace.

On Wednesday, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, criticised the Government for stopping efforts to isolate and trace coronavirus cases. He told MPs: “Test and trace should have been in place three months before it was.” 

He said the NHS Test and Trace system in England is not “fit for purpose, let alone world class”. 

Mr Hopson said there is an “awful lot” to do to get the service in place for winter, adding that the research to be published by the body later this week will show NHS leaders “are not particularly confident” about the system so far.

Councils have warned that many of those being called reject attempts to contact them, because they assume that the unfamiliar “0300” number is a cold caller.

The changes also follow warnings that the safe reopening of schools depends on improvements in efforts to test and track the virus.  The national service will be reduced from 18,000 to 12,000 contact tracers, amid concern that in recent months, thousands of outsourced workers employed by Serco and Sitel have been sitting idle.  

In June, ministers announced that the contact tracing app would be abandoned and replaced, after an audit found it could detect just one in 25 contacts on Apple phones. 

The programme had been dogged by criticism, with questions for months about why Britain insisted on building its own app, rather than harness the skills of the tech giants. 

In May, the Prime Minister promised a “world-beating” test, track and trace operation by June 1, as part of efforts to bring Britain out of lockdown. But when the system launched, it was based only on manual tracing, with officials refusing to say when the app would be ready, and describing it as “the cherry on the cake”.

When Google/Apple technology was instead used, this rose to 99 percent. However, testing found that in some cases the technology being used by Apple and Google could not differentiate between a phone in a user’s pocket one metre away and a phone in a user’s hand three metres away.

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