A “world-beating” track and trace system to stop a second coronavirus peak and help ease lockdown has been promised by the end of May by Boris Johnson.
The prime minister said he had “great confidence” the system abandoned in March given the ballooning number of cases will be up and running in time for English schools to reopen on 1 June.
He was under pressure to make the announcement after the government’s deputy chief scientific adviser said on Tuesday a highly effective version of the programme needed to be off the ground for any changes to social distancing to be safe.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged him at Prime Minister’s Questions to commit to a date, as more than 35,000 people have now died in the UK.
Mr Johnson announced 24,000 workers have been recruited to staff the track and trace programme. They will be tasked with finding all those who have come into contact with people with COVID-19 symptoms and will tell them to self-isolate.
“We have growing confidence that we will have a test, track and test operation that will be world-beating and yes it will be
in place by June 1,” he said.
“There will be 25,000 trackers, they will be able to cope with 10,000 new cases a day.”
In a creeping return to the combative nature of PMQs, Sir Keir said the UK has been through a “critical period” of nearly 10 weeks with no “effective tracing” of people spreading the virus.
He said the government’s action had left “a huge hole in our defences”.
Mr Johnson did not hold back in his criticism of the Labour leader, accusing Sir Keir of being “in ignorance of the facts” on care homes and offering “feigned ignorance” on the lack of tracing since mid-March.
Tempers ran high elsewhere in parliament, as the health secretary was sternly reprimand for interrupting Sir Keir.
The House of Commons Speaker told him: “Do you want to leave the chamber? We’re on maximum numbers. If you want to give way to someone else I’m more than happy.”