The UK’s contact tracing app has received £2.5million in funding after a deal was struck with a specialist vendor to provide support and development work for the app for the rest of the year.
The app, which has been downloaded more than 30 million times and cost at least £100 million to develop, is now managed by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). However, with the UK government removing the legal requirement for people who test positive to isolate and manual contact tracing operations shut down, long-term plans for the technology are unclear.
The support contract was established on February 14 with an end date of December 31, according to a government announcement. UKHSA did not immediately say whether they plan to renew the contract next year.
The supplier for this new contract is Netcompany, an IT services organization headquartered in Denmark with offices around the world, including the UK (London and Leeds), Norway, Vietnam and Poland.
This is not the first time that Netcompany has taken part in the UK contact tracing scheme. In November 2020, the UK government awarded the company a one-year contract for “Alpha, Beta and Live support services to NHS Test and Trace”.
Meanwhile, the contract notice for the new funding for the contact tracing app says staff provided by the company will be expected to “work in conjunction with UKHSA’s internal teams to provide a range of services from development of mobile applications and support the AWS infrastructure of existing systems”. .
While the contact tracing app was funded for another year, a COVID-19 symptom tracking app had its funding withdrawn. The symptom tracker app was developed by King’s College London (KCL), alongside Guys & St Thomas Hospitals and London and Boston-based nutritional science start-up ZOE, co-founded by Professor KCL Genetic Epidemiology Tim Spector.
This app, which launched on March 24, 2020, had been supported by a grant from the UK Department of Health and Social Care. However, when the UKHSA was granted oversight of the contact tracing operations, it refused to renew funding for the project.
Posting on Twitter, spector said“I am disappointed to share that the ZOE COVID study has not had its funding renewed by the UKHSA. But we are moving forward and looking forward to the next steps, looking at a range of health conditions as well as COVID. “
Contact tracing in the UK
Developing the UK contact tracing app has been a long and complicated journey. The first attempt was abandoned in June 2020, after the UK government attempted to create a centralized version of the untested technology, which lacked support from Google and Apple and explicitly violated the tech companies’ privacy policies.
A working version of the application was finally rolled out in September of the same year. However, as the pandemic entered its second year, there were numerous reports of people deleting the app or disabling the contact tracing element after 700,000 people in England and Wales were asked to isolate within a week.
Among those caught up in the so-called ‘pingdemic’ were Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labor leader Keir Starmer.
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