Germany’s health minister has said he was “surprised” at Boris Johnson’s claim no country had a functioning coronavirus tracing app after he was questioned about repeated delays to the UK’s one.
Jens Spahn said technology to track down other people someone with COVID-19 may have infected has been downloaded by 15 million people in Germany and does work.
He told Sky News: “I’m happy that someone helped us to promote it.”
Mr Johnson drew criticism when he rebuffed criticism from Sir Keir Starmer about promises of a “world-beating” test and trace system by 1 June, which saw the app trialled on the Isle of Wight but not set for UK-wide release until the winter.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions on 24 June, he challenged the Labour leader to “name a single country in the world that has a functioning contact-tracing app because there isn’t one”.
Sir Keir shot back that Germany had a contact-tracing app that had more than 12 million downloads and branded it a “dodgy answer from a prime minister who wasn’t across the detail”.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman later clarified his comments, saying: “A number of countries in the world do have apps, but not ones that fully and reliably record everybody’s contacts in a way that allows for comprehensive test and trace, and not in a way that we would reliably be able to take a decision on telling people to self-isolate or not.”
Germany has now responded, with federal minister Mr Spahn saying Mr Johnson “made it too easy” for Sir Keir.
“Nevertheless, my team and I when we saw this scene we were surprised and proud of it,” he told Sky News at a virtual event hosted by the Policy Exchange think-tank.
“It was hard work to do.
“We were not sure when we started this coronavirus app if it really works out the way we want it to, the data protection rules that need to be applied and the bluetooth technology for the first time.”
He added it has now had 15 million downloads and “works very well”, quipping: “I’m happy that someone helped us to promote it.”
Mr Spahn conceded its usage “alone is not a hint if it is working or not” but claimed it had has more downloads than all other EU countries’ apps put together.
“It works,” he insisted.
Currently in the UK, around 20,000 contact tracers are working to speak to anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and then establish their close contacts to tell them to self-isolate and get tested.
But the app is needed to pick up those people who may have unknowingly been infected by someone with the virus – for example a person sat nearby in a park.
In the seven days up to Wednesday 1 July, 22.6% of people with COVID-19 referred to the existing system were not spoken to by contact tracers – a slight rise on the 22.1% the system missed the previous week.
Of those contacted, 29.2% still did not have their close contacts reached and told to self isolate – a rise from 25.8% the previous week.
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