LONDON (Reuters) – Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Thursday that he is confident that a COVID-19 tracking and tracking system will be in place by June 1, allowing blocking rules to be eased without the risk of a increase in infections.
Health professionals warned that any failure in Britain's ability to screen and track people with the new coronavirus and their contacts would result in a second deadly wave.
Britain is currently testing a Bluetooth-based COVID-19 smartphone app on the Isle of Wight, on the south coast of England, where the government says more than half of the residents have downloaded it.
James Brokenshire, junior interior minister responsible for security, said on Thursday that there were technical problems with the application, but that traditional measures could be implemented first.
Hancock, however, said the app was working alongside a conventional tracking system that uses phone and email to alert those who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.
"The app is working on the Isle of Wight," he said. "We want to ensure that this whole system works well and supports the ability to make changes to the rules of social distance".
British tracking coordinator John Newton said the app was not needed before conventional tracking and tracking could begin.
"They are distinct, but complementary, and it is perfectly acceptable, in fact, possibly advantageous, to introduce one before the other," he said.
The government has recruited 24,000 trackers to manually track the contacts of people who are positive for COVID-19 using phone and email, said Hancock.
But Britain's progress has been criticized: opposition lawmakers said the earlier promise of a national deployment of a smartphone app developed by the National Health Service (NHS) had fallen in the middle of this month.
The rival technology developed by Apple and Google was launched in several other countries on Wednesday. The companies said they were talking to the UK about the system.
Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton; edition of Stephen Addison and Michael Holden