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Track and trace system can work without app, minister says

The UK’s track and trace system to stop a second coronavirus peak and help ease the lockdown can work initially without the accompanying app, a minister has told Sky News.

Speaking to Kay Burley@Breakfast, Security minister James Brokenshire said the app is intended to provide “extra support” to the overall system.

Boris Johnson has promised a “world-beating” system will be ready by 1 June, the earliest possible date for the beginning of a phased reopening of primary schools.

Boris Johnson MP on his way to PMQs
PM quizzed on ‘test and trace’ as deaths fall

The prime minister told MPs that 25,000 staff would be in place by the start of next month and they would be able to track the contacts of up to 10,000 new COVID-19 cases a day.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock previously said the aim was to have the whole system up and running by the middle of May.

People who have come into contact with someone who has the virus, or is reporting symptoms, will be told to self-isolate in order to avoid spreading the coronavirus to others.

Downing Street has said the system will be rolled out before the contact tracing app.

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The prime minister’s spokesman told journalists on Wednesday that the app “is only one part of the system” and that there is a “tried and tested” system for tracing and testing people.

This was echoed by Mr Brokenshire on Thursday, who said that just because the app is not ready yet “it does not mean that we cannot have a good and effective track and trace capability in place from the beginning of June, able to contact 10,000 people”.

tracing app
Ministers say tracing plan on schedule

“It’s important that we put in place all the things that we can, as quickly as we can,” he told Sky News.

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

“That should not stand in the way of the track and trace arrangements that I’ve explained. They can be effective.”

An effective tracing and tracking system is seen as vital in the fight against COVID-19.

The government’s deputy chief scientific adviser, Professor Dame Angela McLean, said on Tuesday that a highly effective version of the programme needs to be off the ground to allow for the lockdown to be altered safely.

The hope is that it will allow health officials to keep the virus under control by keeping transmission of it low and avoiding a second peak in cases.

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The contact tracers that have been recruited will manually gather information about the places infected people have visited and others they have been in contact with.

Contact tracing began in January for every positive coronavirus diagnosis, but the policy was abandoned in March after Public Health England advised the government that the virus was “more widespread”.

A contact tracing app developed by NHSx, the health service’s digital technology arm, is currently being piloted on the Isle of Wight.

It uses a bluetooth signal to send automatic, anonymous alerts to anyone the user has recently been in close proximity to.

This occurs once that phone user registers they have either tested positive for COVID-19 or are displaying symptoms of the virus.

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