The health ministry on Friday released a report blaming limited testing for glitches in the government’s COVID-19 contact-tracing smartphone app that were overlooked for a prolonged period.
The glitches in the app for Android smartphones prevented users from being notified even if they had contact with individuals infected with the novel coronavirus from late September last year, when an updated version was released.
The app, dubbed COCOA, remained nonfunctioning for Android users until the defects were fixed in February this year.
The organizational structure for developing the app was inadequate, the report also said.
Vice health minister Hideki Tarumi and Tokuaki Shobayashi, director-general of the Health Service Bureau, will be given written warnings over the failure, the ministry said.
The ministry “as the placer of the order for the app has to reflect seriously on the fact that it failed to manage the project properly,” health minister Norihisa Tamura told a news conference.
According to the report, only limited testing to verify operations was conducted when the app was developed, because the testing environment had yet to be established.
In the meantime, the app had to be updated urgently to deal with the issue of users being notified for possible contact with infected individuals too often, which triggered a wave of inquiries to local public health centers.
While the testing environment was ready in October, testing was left to the developer as the importance of testing was not fully recognized among ministry officials involved.
But the developer was too busy working on other updates, with testing pushed down to a lower priority, the report said.
As additional factors contributing to the prolonged glitches, the report also cited the small amount of knowledge and experience about the development and management of apps among ministry personnel, the limited number of officials assigned to the project, and an ambiguous division of roles between the ministry and the developer.
To prevent a recurrence of such blunders, the ministry highlighted the need to construct the testing environment at an early stage and to exchange opinions closely with developers.
The ministry also called for establishing an organizational structure appropriate for the development of apps for which glitches are unavoidable to some degree and for improving knowledge about information technology among officials in managerial positions.
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