This comparison of the cost of the Irish and UK contact tracing systems is misleading

9 October 2020
What was claimed

Ireland’s test and trace system costs £773,000.

Our verdict

Incorrect. This is just the initial development cost of the contact tracing app, not the entire test and trace system.

What was claimed

The UK’s test and trace system has cost £12 billion.

Our verdict

£12 billion has been provided for the test and trace programme in England by the UK government. The cost of the app in England and Wales is estimated to be £35 million for development and first-year running costs.

We’ve been alerted to a screenshot circulating across WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, which claims that the cost of the test and trace system in Ireland is £773,000, while the UK’s test and trace system has cost £12 billion. 

This is a misleading comparison. The £773,000 refers just to the cost of designing the test and trace app in the Republic of Ireland. The £12 billion refers to the UK government’s provision for the whole test and trace system in England. 

By comparison, the chief executive of the Irish Health Service Executive has said the full-year cost of its test and trace system could reach €700 million

The post also says "the Irish system works", but we won't assess the effectiveness of either system in this article.

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What about the app?

It is fair to say that the cost of developing the app used in England and Wales far exceeds the cost of the Irish app. 

The Irish app launched in July, when it was announced that it cost around €850,000 to develop and would have an annual running cost of €350,000-400,000. 

The Guardian converted this €850,000 initial cost into £773,000 which is the figure widely cited in viral social media posts.  

By comparison, on 17 September UK government officials told the Public Accounts Committee that the first phase of development for a tracing app for England and Wales cost around £11 million and that the second phase of app development and running costs for the first year would come to a further £25 million.  

This refers to the fact that the government’s first attempt to build an app was abandoned

Elsewhere in the UK, the Northern Irish and Scottish executives both hired the company which designed the Irish app to design their own. Chief digital information officer at the Northern Irish Department of Health Dan West was reported as saying its app would cost less than £1 million to build and operate.   

However, England and Wales are not the only countries where a contact tracing app has cost in the region of tens of millions of pounds.

The German government has said its app cost around €20 million to develop with operating costs of €3 million per month. 

The £12 billion figure mentioned in the social media posts and messages on the other hand refers to the UK government’s total provision for test and trace in England, not just the app.

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