Germany is helping the UK develop its COVID-19 contact-tracing app, says ambassador

Deutschland, uber alle allies


Germany is helping the UK develop its new decentralised contact-tracing app, the country's ambassador Andreas Michaelis told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Our experts are in touch with experts here in the UK, overseen by the two health ministries to see how they can move forward together, shoulder to shoulder," Michaelis said.

Speaking of Germany's own open-source virus-tracing app, which uses the APIs offered by Apple and Google as part of iOS and Android, Michaelis simply said: "It works."

The ambassador also noted it had been downloaded more than 14 million times since it first became available on 16 June, and was the product of €20m in investment.

"If this can help the UK, we'd be very happy," Michaelis added.

Germany's contact-tracing app strategy has mirrored the UK's slightly, starting with a much-criticised centralised approach before pivoting to the decentralised frameworks offered by the two US tech giants.

But when it comes to deployment, Germany is leagues ahead of Britain, having successfully disseminated a working contact-tracing app throughout the population. In contrast, the UK is still months away from a functioning app, having only just ditched the centralised version developed by NHSX in conjunction with US tech giant VMware.

Tests of the centralised app – which reportedly cost £11.8m to develop – on the Isle of Wight demonstrated several fundamental operational flaws, mainly when it came to cross-platform Bluetooth connections between Android and iOS devices.

Compounding these were privacy concerns, with House of Commons Humans Rights Committee chair Harriet Harman expressing worries about a lack of clearly defined governance as to how the data would be handled and used. Source code to the virus-tracing software is now shelved on GitHub, here for iOS and here for Android.

In the interim, the British government has been forced to adopt human-powered contact tracing, with contact centre workers manually identifying possible interactions between members of the public and those infected with the COVID-19 bio-nasty, and urging them to self-isolate. ®


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