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Government wasted over £11m trying to build own coronavirus contract tracing app

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Track and trace software.

Contracts in excess of £11m awarded to private companies to aid the government’s effort to develop a custom-made coronavirus contract tracing app have so far failed to produce viable results.

This comes after Matt Hancock scrapped plans to build the country’s own centralised app, which has been trialed on the Isle of Wight, rather than use technology already available from global giants Apple and Google.

A total of £11,297,811 has been awarded to 11 firms working on developing the old version of the app.

Records show that one company, Zuhlke Engineering, was awarded multiple contracts totaling over £6.5m for helping to develop the technology.

Finally, on Thursday, officials conceded the app designed by the health service’s tech arm picked up just four per cent of contacts on users of Apple phones.

Speaking at the No 10 coronavirus press conference, Mr Hancock, the health secretary, said: “We found that our app works well on Android devices but Apple software prevents iPhones being used effectively for contact tracing unless you are using Apple’s own technology.”

Pressed on whether the government had wasted its time developing the custom-made app for England, the cabinet minister replied: “No, actually quite the contrary, I’m from Newmarket, we back both horses.

“We took the decision in May to start building the Google-Apple version as well and then because we built both we could test both.”

The role of the app is considered to be of a vital nature in the contact tracing of Covid-19 across the country as the transmission rate of the virus declines, but the government has not yet provided a date for when the technology will be rolled out nationwide.

More than £4.8 million has been awarded by The Department of Health and Social Care to developer VMware and its subsidiary Pivotal in three contracts for work on the creation of the app, according to the Press Association. Other contracts were also given to firms involved in the security testing of the application, ranging in value from £67,000 to more than £162,000.

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