The government has today launched a new test and trace service to slow the spread of coronavirus – but it does not include a date for the roll-out of the contact tracing app.
From today, anyone who tests positive for the virus will be contacted by a member of the NHS test and trace team and will be asked for information about their recent contacts with other people.
They will then be asked to isolate for 14 days and anyone else deemed to have been exposed will be contacted by the team.
But a date for the contact-tracing app, which is being developed by NHSX, was noticeably absent from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announcement.
The app forms part of the trace response which will also see 25,000 contact-tracing staff, online services and local public health experts enlisted to identify close contacts with the virus.
It is designed to “compliment” traditional tracing methods, but a date for roll-out has not yet been announced. DHSC reiterated previous government responses that the app would be ready “in the coming weeks”.
Last week Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the test and trace system would be implemented by June, later than the app was originally expected.
A pilot of the app was launched on the Isle of Wight in the first week of May, with further roll-out expected shortly after.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has previously said the app would be rolled out by mid-May, as had NHSX chief Matthew Gould when grilled for a data by parliament’s science and technology committee.
Upon launching the new service, DHSC said work on the app continues following a “positive reception” on the Isle of Wight which saw 52,000 downloads in the first week.
“The app, which will form a part of the NHS test and trace service, is due to be launched in the coming weeks once contact tracing is up and running. It will significantly extend the speed and reach of contact tracing, by helping to identify those who you may not know, such as someone sitting next to you on public transport,” a statement from DHSC said.
“The app will also give powerful insights into the spread of the virus and how to contain it.”
The government has also faced criticism over its hiring of contact-tracing staff, with many saying the numbers needed won’t be reached.
Dido Harding, executive chair of NHS Test and Trace, said: “NHS Test and Trace will not succeed on its own – we all need to play our part. This is why we are working hand-in-hand with communities and local authorities across the country to tailor support at a local level, and respond quickly to local needs. And we will be constantly developing and improving as we go.
“Together we can help contain the virus, stop it spreading further and ultimately save lives.”
A £300 million package has also been made available to local authorities to work with the test and trace team to develop local outbreak control plans.
The four tools of the Test and Trace system:
- Test: increasing availability and speed of testing will underpin NHS Test and Trace
- Trace: when someone tests positive for coronavirus the NHS Test and Trace service will use dedicated contact tracing staff, online services and local public health experts to identify any close recent contacts they’ve had and alert those most at risk of having the virus who need to self-isolate. This will be complemented by the rollout of the NHS Covid-19 App in the coming weeks
- Contain: A national Joint Biosecurity Centre will work with local authorities and public health teams in PHE, including local Directors of Public Health, to identify localised outbreaks and support effective local responses, including plans to quickly deploy testing facilities to particular locations. Local authorities have been supported by £300m of new funding to help local authorities develop their own local outbreak control plans
- Enable: Government to learn more about the virus, including as the science develops, to explore how we could go further in easing infection control measures