UK contact tracing system to be ready by June 1, prime minister says
Prime minister Boris Johnson has said that the UK’s Covid-19 track and trace operation will be ready by June 1, with the capability to track those who have been in contact with 10,000 new cases per day.
Health secretary Matt Hancock had previously outlined that an NHS contact tracing app would be rolled out in May as part of the government’s wider contact tracing strategy, a move has now been delayed.
Speaking about the government’s plans during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, Johnson said that there was “growing confidence” the operation would be ready by June.
Johnson made the revelation after being quizzed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over the absence of track and trace during the pandemic thus far.
Johnson said: "We have growing confidence that we will have a test, track and trace operation that will be world-beating and yes, it will be in place by June 1."
According to the PM, 24,000 contact tracers have been recruited. Notably, Johnson did not mention the NHS app which Hancock had said would form part of the government’s tracing framework. The app is currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight.
On testing, Johnson said that more tests were being carried out in the UK than “virtually every country in Europe”, adding that there was still room to ramp up the testing system in the next two weeks.
Responding to Sir Keir's questioning over the rate of testing within care homes, the PM said that 125,000 care home staff had been tested and that the government was "absolutely confident" in its ability to increase testing across the community.
Johnson said: "Thanks to the hard work of [Health Secretary Matt Hancock] and his teams, we will get up to 200,000 tests in the country by the end of this month."
During the session, the prime minister also rebuffed Sir Keir's calls to axe the surcharge for health service and care home workers to use the NHS, which currently stands at £400 per year.
The PM revealed that 181 NHS workers and 131 social care personnel had now been confirmed to have died of Covid-19, or were suspected cases.
Meanwhile, the government is keen to press on with plans to reopen some schools from June 1, despite 11 local authorities airing concerns over safety.