UK says COVID track and trace system will be ready despite app issues

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is dealing with technical issues of its track and trace app that it hopes will help it keep the novel coronavirus outbreak under control, but will use traditional tracking means until it is rolled out, the security minister said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: UK National Health Service employee Anni Adams shows a smartphone displaying the new NHS app to trace contacts with people potentially infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) being trialled on Isle of Wight, Britain, May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Isla Binnie

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday a “world-beating” programme to test and trace those suspected of having been in contact with people who have tested positive for COVID-19 would be in place by June 1.

The test and track programme is seen as a key measure to reopen the country, but has also been dogged by criticism after opposition lawmakers said an earlier promise of a nationwide roll-out of a National Health Service (NHS)-developed smartphone app had slipped from the middle of this month.

Britain is currently testing the app on the Isle of Wight off the southern coast of England where the government says more than half the residents had downloaded it.

“The track and trace system is going to be ready,” James Brokenshire, the junior interior minister in charge of security, told Sky News.

“We obviously want to see that the app is put in place well and effectively, learning from the experience on the Isle of Wight and dealing with all of the feedback that we’re receiving on some of the technical issues, to ensure that the app is as strong as we can make it.”

When asked about a trial in Britain and purchases of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, he said that all drugs were tested carefully. When asked if he would take it, he said he felt there was no need to make such statements.

His comments come after U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended taking hydroxychloroquine to try to ward off the novel coronavirus despite medical warnings about its use.

Brokenshire also said restrictions on arrivals from overseas would be introduced early next month. He refused to give any further details.

(This story corrects day in first paragraph)

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton; editing by Michael Holden

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