Downing Street has admitted that the NHS Covid-19 tracing app is still “weeks” away from being rolled out nationwide – despite previously saying that it would be launched in mid-May – prompting a scathing response from critics.

The delay in the rollout of the NHS app, currently being trialed on the Isle of Wight, is the latest setback for the UK government, which has been widely criticized for failing to hit a number of targets and causing unnecessary confusion throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

During a Downing Street media briefing on Monday, a spokesman for PM Boris Johnson appeared to play down the significance of the phone app being “weeks” away from launching, insisting that their test-and-track system could still work efficiently. Health Secretary Matt Hancock had previously promised to have the app operational by mid-May.

Downing Stree lt Monday briefingTracing app will be rolled out “within weeks” (without ruling out it could be 8 weeks / months – !). Hancock said it wd be mid MayNo10 confident 18,000 tracers will be recruited by this weekSays it is possible to do track and trace before app

It comes after government minister Brandon Lewis revealed last week that they had only recruited 1,500 contact tracers – a fraction of the 18,000 it had hoped to employ. However, quizzed on the issue in the House of Commons on Monday, Hancock told MPs that 21,000 tracers had now been hired.

The UK government has insisted that it is possible to conduct manual tracking and tracing until the NHS app is ready.Tory MPs appeared jubilant when Hancock announced that the 100,000 tests-a-day target had been reached by the end of April, only for it to be revealed that 40,000 of the total count included testing kits merely sent out in the post – before the results had been sent for diagnostic testing.

The latest setback has prompted ridicule on social media, with many people ostensibly accusing the UK government of mismanaging the coronavirus crisis. One commenter branded the situation a “bloody disgrace,” calling it “a s**t show of dynamic proportions.”

Others appeared bemused at the latest admission from Johnson’s administration, calling into question whether the delay – and latest missed target – seriously risks the appropriateness of relaxing Covid-19 restrictions. GIFs were posted appearing to mock the idea that effective tracking and tracing could be properly carried out without the app being up and running.

Not calling them liars but…

Another commenter joked that perhaps the government could try to trace Johnson, claiming that the prime minister was being uncharacteristically ‘camera shy’ of late. 

The NHS-designed app – in conjunction with a planned contingent of human contact tracers – is seen as an integral part of plans to ease lockdown restrictions by alerting authorities to any localized outbreaks of coronavirus. Teaching unions have insisted that it is not safe for children to go back to school until Covid-19 infection rates are much lower and the UK has a mass-scale test, track and trace system in place.

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