This story was originally published and last updated .
The UK's national health service (NHS) started testing its coronavirus track and trace app with a limited group of users on the Isle of Wight on May 5, but the UK government has been very quiet about it since then. It now appears that the app is available to Android users on the UK mainland — I can vouch for this myself since I live in London — and even outside the UK for some reason, so we can hopefully expect official word that it's available to all soon.
I was able to download the app from the Play Store and punch in my postcode (ZIP code) to get it up and running, and a tipster from Manchester was also able to do the same. Once I'd done that and enabled location and Bluetooth permissions, the app says it's working correctly and that I can await notifications if there's special advice for my location. If I were to feel unwell, I can let the app know so that it can tell me whether I should be worried about my symptoms. It asks if I have a temperature or cough and would presumably pass me onto the NHS 111 service (non-emergency phone number we're supposed to call) if I answered yes to both of those.
According to the government (via Wired), 60,000 of the 140,000 Isle of Wight residents downloaded the app, but in reality, that number could have counted those who downloaded the app twice or those able to download it outside the Isle of Wight. Germany launched its own track and trace app yesterday, which is underpinned by the decentralized tech that's being baked into both iOS and Android.
Until now, the NHS COVID-19 app hasn't been widely available to UK residents, but now that the Android version can be searched for on the Play Store and easily installed, it could mean the government is about to announce its widespread availability. It could also mean somebody has messed up and the app shouldn't be available as it is — anything is possible. The fact that my US colleagues also seem to be able to install the app doesn't inspire confidence.
UK Government says it won't be ready until winter
According to Lord Bethell of Romford, the minister responsible for the app, it's not currently a priority and won't be fully functional until winter (via The Guardian). This is in spite of the app becoming widely available and goes against UK health secretary Matt Hancock's original claim that the service would go live in mid-May.
UK government announces U-turn on centralized tech
Check out our latest coverage for info on the government's plans to use Google and Apple's decentralized technology instead.
- Stuart Smith