The UK is abandoning its existing contact-tracing app and switching to the technology provided by Google and Apple, Sky News has confirmed.
The news will be announced at a briefing later today.
The move marks a major U-turn, after the government insisted its own centralised model was more effective than the model being proposed by the technology companies.
In particular the government believed that by holding the data on contacts in a centralised manner they would have been able to develop valuable epidemiological data about how the virus is spreading.
The centralised model would also have helped prevent against people causing mischief with the system by giving the authorities an edge in detecting false positives.
Google and Apple collaborated to allow mobile devices to use Bluetooth in the background and register when they come within close proximity of another mobile phone.
But the collaboration required health authorities’ apps to utilise a decentralised model of data storage – keeping the list of contacts on each device, rather than uploading it to a central authority – which they said would protect users’ privacy.
As the iOS and Android mobile operating systems are run on 99% of the world’s smartphones, the companies’ technical designs have a fundamental say in how contact-tracing apps work.
For months the government had asserted that its app, designed outside of the requirements set by Apple and Google, would be more effective than what could be achieved within those requirements.
Despite being initially promised for mid-May, a health minister has now said the app would not be ready before winter.
Lord Bethell confirmed the government still planned to introduce a contact-tracing app, describing it as “a really important option for the future”.
The app has been the subject of a trial on the Isle of Wight, where the Department of Health says it has been downloaded by 54,000 people.
Lord Bethell said the trial had been a success, but admitted that one of its principal lessons had been that greater emphasis needed to be placed on manual contact tracing.
“It was a reminder that you can’t take a totally technical answer to the problem,” he said.
Problems with manual contact tracing have been apparent in NHS statistics which today revealed that at least a quarter of people who test positive for COVID-19 in the UK are being missed.