England’s contact tracing system – billed last week as “world class” by PM Boris Johnson – will not be “fully operational” until the end of June, the head of the service has reportedly told UK MPs, prompting ridicule from Britons.

On the day the vital system was supposed to be launched, Dido Harding, the chair of NHS track and trace, told a group of UK lawmakers in a conference call on Thursday that local authorities in England and trained contact tracers wouldn’t be fully linked to the system until the end of June, according to one of those MPs, Ben Bradshaw.

Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, insisted Harding’s admission was “clearly at variance with [the] promise made by Boris Johnson at prime minister’s questions last week to have a world-beating system in operation by 1 June.”

“Baroness Harding confirmed, this [test and trace] system won’t be fully operational until the end of June.” @BenPBradshaw told @Emmabarnett what he had been told during an MPs’ conference call this morning.📻 @BBCSounds – https://t.co/4SnxX44AQspic.twitter.com/EGYml8rtp3

It appears to be the latest example of the UK government being big on promises but failing to deliver on a number of targets set during the coronavirus outbreak, from issues with testing levels to personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies.

The UK government’s health and social care social media scrambled to put a positive spin on the delay, insisting that “NHS Test and Trace begins today” and that local councils have what they need to make it work.

The fully integrated system with 25,000 Covid-19 contact tracers was meant to be up and running on June 1 – when primary schools are expected to start reopening and other lockdown measures relaxed – to stop new cases of the deadly virus spreading amongst the community.

The reopening of schools was conditional on this vital feature being in operation, an issue that has been seized on by those on social media. One frustrated commenter asked: “Are we still doing this farcical partial Primary School re-opening on Monday?”

Others accused the UK government of rushing the contact tracing system to “to bury the [Dominic] Cummings story.” Another commenter claimed that it was merely a “distraction tactic for the Cummings Rule breaking.”

The much-heralded NHS contact-tracing phone app that was meant to be launched at the same time as the manual system, will not be ready to be rolled out until next week at the earliest. 

The app, which is currently being trialed on the Isle of Wight, has become embroiled in privacy controversies. The outsourcing company, Serco, admitted to a data breach that saw the email addresses of around 300 contact tracers accidentally shared.

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