Human tracing important before app, says Matt Hancock

The NHS contact tracing app is not part of the new Test and Trace system at launch because human contact tracing measures need to be introduced first, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

NHS Test and Trace – seen as key to easing the lockdown restrictions – is being rolled out across England on Thursday with the help of 25,000 contact tracers.

The UK’s contact tracing app has been trialled on the Isle of Wight for several weeks but a national roll-out remains delayed.

Speaking on Sky News, Mr Hancock said the app trial had found being contacted first by a human tracer was more effective at “getting people used to the idea” of being told they need to isolate for 14 days because they had been in contact with someone who has coronavirus.

The system works by asking those who test positive for Covid-19 to share details of recent and close contacts, who are then notified and can be asked to self-isolate depending on when they last had contact with the infected person.

Mr Hancock said: “The pilot on the Isle of Wight showed that the best thing to do was to introduce the human contact tracing, and then build on that once people have got used to the idea that when the NHS Test and Trace system get in contact you’ve got to do quite a big thing, which is to isolate for two weeks.”

The Health Secretary said the app, which uses Bluetooth signals to detect when users come into close contact with one another, will be useful later on because it could help with broader tracing.

“The app adds value to this system because it can help to find contacts who you simply wouldn’t be able to find any other way,” he said.

“So if you were on a bus, say, within two metres of somebody, you wouldn’t know who they were – you wouldn’t be able to contact them, but the app will help do that.”

He also repeated a message from Baroness Dido Harding, leading the Government’s test and trace programme, who said the app “puts the cherry on the cake, it isn’t the cake”.

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