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The UK’s coronavirus app will launch without contact tracing

It won’t be a contract tracing app, at least at launch.


What you need to know

  • The UK is launching its NHS coronavirus app months into the pandemic.
  • It will allow users to log symptoms and secure a test, but it won’t be able to offer contact tracing,
  • The new app will go live from Thursday, September 24.

The UK is set to get its own app to battle the coronavirus pandemic this week, albeit with a crucial feature missing. A tweet by the BBC’s Chris Mason on Monday noted that while the government planned to debut an app on Thursday, it would do so without a critical feature — contact tracing.

NEW: Downing St tell us that from Thursday people in England will be able to download a Coronavirus app…to check and report symptoms, book a test, find out if you tested positive or not. It won’t do contact tracing.

— Chris Mason (@ChrisMasonBBC) September 21, 2020

The app will still offer key features, allowing users to log their symptoms if they’re ill or to request a test if they suspect they’ve contracted the virus, but the contact tracing will be done manually by the NHS test and trace system.

It’s an especially odd omission when one considers that bot Apple and Google have well-integrated for mobile contact tracing. The UK was said to be building an app off that framework, but appears to be holding off on implementing it for now.

FAQ: What is the Google-Apple COVID-19 (coronavirus) Exposure Notifications system?

Speaking to the BBC, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:

We need to use every tool at our disposal to control the spread of the virus including cutting-edge technology. The launch of the app later this month across England and Wales is a defining moment and will aid our ability to contain the virus at a critical time.

The UK has been said to be at a “tipping point” in its management of the virus, with cases predicted to reach 50,000 a day in October if growth continues at the current rate.

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