UK government abandons NHS contact tracing app

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Coronavirus tracing app

In an embarrassing and costly U-Turn, the UK has ditched the current NHS coronavirus contact tracing app, developed by NHSX, in favour of a solution from tech giants Apple and Google.

The current system, piloted on the Isle of Wight, is to be abandoned after research found it could only identify four per cent of contacts on Apple phones, compared to 75% of nearby Android handsets. By contrast, the Apple-Google model logged 99% of both Android mobiles and iPhones.

However the downside of the Google/Apple app is that distance calculations are weaker. In some cases, it can not differentiate between a phone in a user’s pocket one metre away and a phone in a user’s hand three metres away.

As a result of the NHS app being shelved, the UK will follow Germany, Italy and Denmark, among others, in changing from a “centralised” approach to a “decentralised” one. 

Officials said  that many countries around the world, including Singapore, had only uncovered problems with their technology after the systems were rolled out, adding that the new system would bring together the work on the current app and the Google/Apple model. 

At the Downing Street briefing, Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested the original plan might have worked had it not been for Apple’s restrictions on third-party apps’ use of Bluetooth.

“Apple software prevents iPhones being used effectively for contact tracing unless you’re using Apple’s own technology,” he said.

“Our app won’t work because Apple won’t change that system… and their app can’t measure distance well enough to a standard that we are satisfied with.

“What matters is what works. Because what works will save lives.”

The news comes as the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK has passed 300,000, currently standing at 300,469. The UK’s average number of deaths from Covid-19 over the last seven-days is now 144, compared with 435 a month ago. 

 

Chris Price
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