European countries’ Test and Trace programmes cost much more than €100,000

2 December 2022
What was claimed

Test and trace cost £37 billion.

Our verdict

Test and Trace had a budget of £37 billion for its first two years, but the NAO estimated in July 2022 that the final cost will be around £29 billion.

What was claimed

Most EU states paid just €100,000 for their versions of Test and Trace.

Our verdict

False. It’s hard to compare the costs of testing and tracing programmes, but even just Covid-19 apps launched by several European countries cost many millions of euros.

A post on Facebook says: “The Racecourse Director Placed in Charge of Tracking Who Failed and Cost Everyone a Fortune. £37 Billion (when most EU States paid just €100k) for one’s [sic] that worked”.

It features a picture of Dido Harding who was chair of Test and Trace (and is on the board of directors for the Jockey Club, which owns many UK racecourses).

Test and Trace did not cost £37 billion—that was its budget for the first two years but it ended up costing less. There’s also no evidence that other countries in Europe spent just €100,000 on comparable programmes.

The post claims that Test and Trace “failed” and European states’ systems “worked”, but we won’t assess the effectiveness of these systems in this article.

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Test and Trace did not cost £37 billion

The frequently repeated figure of £37 billion isn’t how much Test and Trace ended up costing—it was the total budget allocated for its first two years. The most recent figures produced by the National Audit Office show that, as of June 2022, £25.7 billion had been spent and the estimated lifetime cost is £29.3 billion.

The Facebook post goes on to say that most EU states paid just €100,000 (£86,000) for similar services. We can’t find any evidence for this.

Test and Trace included testing services, ‘contain’ activities (including identifying local outbreaks and supporting local responses), tracing services as well as the NHS Covid-19 app.

Leaving aside other parts of contact tracing and testing, if we just look at the price of other countries’ contact tracing apps alone, several European states spent far more than €100,000  developing and running them.

In January 2022, the German government said that its ‘Corona-Warn-App’ had cost more than €130 million (£111 million). The Dutch version reportedly cost €18.7 million (equivalent to £16 million in today’s prices). In Denmark the cost of the app was reported as 36.4 million Danish krone (£4.4 million) at the beginning of 2021.

And we’ve previously written about how the Republic of Ireland’s comparable app cost €850,000 (£760,000) to develop with an annual running cost of €350,000 to €400,000 (£313,000 to £358,000).

So just the contact tracing apps, which was only one small part of NHS Test and Trace, cost these countries much more than €100,000. In 2020/21, the NHS Covid-19 app cost about £35 million of Test and Trace’s £13.5 billion total spend that year, while the majority of that total (around £10.4 billion) was spent on testing. It’s possible the app costs mentioned above have been revised since. 

Aside from these apps, in August 2021, it was reported that the German federal government had spent €3.7 billion (£3.2 billion) on rapid Covid-19 tests over the previous six months, to say nothing of other costs incurred since then or in 2020. 

Image courtesy of Kai Pilger

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