Government’s Test-and-Trace App to be Relaunched

The Government has concluded that the world-beating test-and-trace app it has already spent more than £10 billion on isn’t fit for purpose, something the rest of us concluded long ago. The Times has the story.

Ministers will launch a scaled back version of the coronavirus app this month after accepting that it was not accurate enough to be used for contact tracing.

A version that tells people about infection levels in their area and allows them to use personal information to calculate a risk score will be trialled.

The app was originally developed as an automated form of contact tracing, but is likely to begin instead as an individualised information and advice service informing people about their personal exposure to coronavirus.

The functions being explored include alerting users when they have been in contact with more people than usual.

While Bluetooth signalling showing that phones have been near each other is not yet trusted as a basis for instructing people to self-isolate for two weeks, officials hope that giving people data on how many close contacts they have could encourage them to stick to social distancing guidance.

These new functions are due to be tested in trials in coming weeks with the hope of having an app available nationwide in time for winter. NHS Test and Trace is planning to launch an app with whichever functions prove effective, in the hope of being able to add automated contact tracing later.

The service has previously announced plans to allow people to book coronavirus tests through the app and use it to scan Quick Response codes at pubs and restaurants so patrons can be alerted if other customers test positive. Although contact tracing was the original stated aim of the app, it is now being downplayed by a business plan that refers to the technology as an “app that supports the end-to-end NHS Test and Trace service”.

The revival of the app came as Times Radio uncovered evidence that some contact tracers have done minimal work since the NHS Track and Trace programme was launched three months ago. One said: “Since mid-May I’ve done two calls. I know some people who’ve had no calls in that time and some who’ve had four or five . . . Most of the time you sit around and watch Netflix.”

£10 billion of taxpayers’ money up in flames so tens of thousands of people can sit around watching Netflix all day. Couldn’t they have done that at home?

Worth re-reading yesterday’s magisterial round-up of the failures of trace-and-test apps around the world by our very own test-and-trace app correspondent.

Stop Press: Richard Dobbs, former McKinsey Director, has devised an ingenious way of measuring the effectiveness of the Govt’s test-and-trace app in the Spectator. According to his Harding-Hancock Test, it’s not faring well.

My initial estimate is that at the moment, Harding-Hancock Efficiency is at a potentially catastrophic level of less than 5 per cent for England. That means that for every person successfully isolated, there are around 20 not isolated, potentially spreading the infection.

By 6 August 2020