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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London, on Wednesday, May 20.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London, on Wednesday, May 20. Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged that the UK’s contact tracing program will be in place by June 1, seemingly contradicting one of his ministers who had earlier said the scheme wouldn’t be as widespread “as we would like” by that date.

Johnson told MPs during Prime Minister’s Questions that 25,000 trackers would be able to trace the contacts of 10,000 new cases each day.

“And to understand the importance of that statistic, I should just remind him that today the new cases stand at 2,400,” Johnson said. “So we’re making fast progress in testing and tracing and I have great confidence that, by June 1, we will have a system that will enable us, that will help us very greatly, to defeat this disease and move the country forward.”

When pressed by Labour leader Keir Starmer on whether the system would be up and running by the start of June — the date from which Johnson will consider easing more lockdown restrictions — Johnson replied: “We have growing confidence that we will have a test, track and trace operation that will be world-beating and yes, it will be in place by June 1.”

That date also marks the deadline, set by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, for the UK to be conducting 200,000 coronavirus tests per day. It is currently carrying out only around 100,000 each day, and its previous monthly target was missed for several days earlier this month.

Starmer told Johnson that “despite two million tests having been carried out” in the UK, “there has been no effective tracing in place since March 12, when tracing was abandoned.”

“That is nearly 10 weeks in a critical period without effective tracing. That is a huge hole in our defences, isn’t it Prime Minister?” he said.

Starmer drew comparisons between the tracing programs in South Korea and Germany, which have helped keep deaths low in those countries.

But Johnson defended his government’s approach, telling Starmer the UK is “now testing more than virtually any other country in Europe.”

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