German minister thanks Boris Johnson for promoting coronavirus tracing app after he tried to trash it

PUBLISHED: 15:28 10 July 2020 | UPDATED: 16:06 10 July 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Pizza Pilgrims restaurant in east London. Photograph: Heathcliff O'Malley/The Daily Telegraph/PA Wire

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Pizza Pilgrims restaurant in east London. Photograph: Heathcliff O'Malley/The Daily Telegraph/PA Wire

A German government minister has thanked Boris Johnson for promoting his coronavirus tracing app after the prime minister tried to downplay its success in parliament.

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Jens Spahn - Germany’s health minister - said his country’s track-and-trace app worked “very well” and had been downloaded more than 15 million times.

“I’m happy that someone helped us to promote it,” he told Sky News referring to the prime minister’s recent comments.

An illustration on a mobile phone showing what a coronavirus contract tracing app; Niall CarsonAn illustration on a mobile phone showing what a coronavirus contract tracing app; Niall Carson

Boris Johnson famously claimed that no country in the world had successfully ran a contact tracing app during Prime Minister’s Questions in June.

Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer fired back that Germany did and that it had 12 million downloads before labelling Johnson’s response as a “dodgy answer from a prime minister who wasn’t across the detail”.

The prime minister’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.”

The UK’s own software has been plagued with technological issue, with a roll-out now not on the cards until the winter. Just last month, ministers scrapped its home-made app in favour of one being designed by Google and Apple.

Spahn finally weighed into the argument, telling journalists Johnson had 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 said.

“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 the programme, which had been downloaded 6.5 million times on the first day it was released on June 15, worked “very well”, joking: “I’m happy that someone helped us to promote it.”

He admitted that its usage “alone is not a hint if it is working or not” but said that it had been the most downloaded software among all EU member states.

The UK has employed a team of 20,000 tracers to track anyone who has been in contact with a person confirmed to have the coronavirus.

In the seven days up to Wednesday July , 22.6% of people with Covid-19 who were referred on were not contacted by tracers.

An app is touted to help close that gap and contact people who may have unknowingly come into contact with a confirmed case, which tracers do not currently do.

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