When Boris Johnson challenged Keir Starmer to “name a single country in the world that has a contact-tracing app”, the leader of the opposition came prepared with receipts.
“Germany,” he coolly responded. He then went on to explain:
12 million downloads. I checked that overnight.
And Germany’s not alone in its efforts to have a contact-tracing app. According to Full Fact, France, Australia, Singapore and Latvia also have track and trace apps – although uptake has been fairly low.
It comes about after the government was forced to scrap plans – costing a total of £12 million – for a custom-made NHS app that would help automatically trace people who had come into contact with others testing positive for the virus.
How does the app work?
The idea is that people download the app, keep their bluetooth on and if they spend an extended amount of time with others in close proximity, it would store that information.
Then if one person tested positive for the virus, everyone they were in recent contact with would automatically be notified.
Unfortunately there were bugs in the app and the government has been forced to adopt an existing model in cooperation with Apple and Google, which could be released as late as winter.
It wasn’t the only clash the two leaders had during Prime Minister's Questions on Tuesday afternoon.
Starmer took aim at Johnson for the shortfalls of the manual test and trace system already in place.
Citing 33,000 people testing positive for coronavirus, but only a third of those being contacted by the trace and track teams, Starmer asked:
If two-thirds of those with Covid-19 are not being contacted that is a big problem, because if we don't get track, trace and isolate properly running we can't open the economy, we can't prevent infection spreading.
What is the government's strategy for closing the gap between the number of people with Covid-19 and those going into the system, not what happens to those that go into the system?
The 33,000 cases in the country is, of course, an estimate.
What NHS test and-trace is doing is contacting the vast majority of those who test positive and their own contacts and getting them to self-isolate, and it is a formidable achievement.
At the time of writing, over 306,000 people have tested positive for the virus and 42,927 people have died.