Government ditches own contact-tracing app to move to Apple and Google

The Government is abandoning efforts to develop its own coronavirus contact-tracing app in order to focus on technology from Apple and Google.

In a major U-turn, the Department of Health and Social Care said on Thursday that efforts would be targeted on developing a programme to support the NHS Test and Trace service based on the tech giants’ model.

But no date was being set for the roll-out, despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock having previously said the key app would be available in mid-May.

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Officials said the Government’s app, which was being trialled on the Isle of Wight, was highly inaccurate when used on iPhones, only identifying around 4% of contacts.

File photo of a person using the NHS coronavirus contact tracing app. The Department of Health and Social Care has said the Government will abandon its efforts to develop its own coronavirus contact-tracing app in order to focus on technology from Apple and Google. Photo: PA

They said they hoped to feed their research into the Google-Apple project, suggesting that the trialled app is superior when dealing with distances between individuals.

Baroness Harding, the executive chair of NHS Test and Trace and Matthew Gould, the chief executive of the NHSX technology wing of the health service, said there had been “specific technical challenges”.

“Our response to this virus has and will continue to be as part of an international effort,” they said in a joint statement.

“That is why as part of a collaborative approach we have agreed to share our own innovative work on estimating distance between app users with Google and Apple, work that we hope will benefit others, while using their solution to address some of the specific technical challenges identified through our rigorous testing.”