On the 12th of April, the UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a coronavirus track-and-trace app. On the 20th of May, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised that the "world beating" app would be released within days. Today, almost a month after Johnson's pledge, the government has confirmed that the app is being abandoned.
Developed by the NHS' innovation branch NHSx, the app was tested on the Isle of Wight from the 5th of May. The government boasted that it had been downloaded by 60,000 people, out of a population of 140,000, but as Wired pointed out: "that figure might have included people who had downloaded the app more than once, or those who managed to download it even if they were not on the island".
After the trial was launched, after an initial flurry of announcements, information about the app became scarce. On the 28th of May, the Isle of Wight-based website On The Wight published an article titled, "Why are questions about Isle of Wight Covid testing and Contact Tracing App not being answered?"
Last week, the Telegraph reported that issues with Bluetooth may have been delaying the release of the app, with Gus Hosein – a member of the ethics advisory board overseeing its development – telling the paper, "I have asked repeatedly for data on how the trials and tests went with Bluetooth data, and they have never shared those results."
Today, when announcing their decision to scrap the app, the team behind it said there had been "specific technical challenges", adding that "our response to this virus has and will continue to be as part of an international effort", and that they will "draw on the invaluable insight from all of those who trialled the app on the Isle of Wight".
In response to the fiasco, Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said today, "This is unsurprising, and yet another example of where the government's response has been slow and badly managed. It's meant precious time and money wasted."
This morning, the UK was ranked second worst in a league table of how the world's richest countries have dealt with coronavirus.