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The UK's National Health Service (NHS) COVID-19 contact tracing app was announced to the British public on 12th April 2020. The UK government endorsed the app as a public health intervention that would improve public health, protect the NHS and 'save lives'. On 5th May 2020 the technology was released for trial on the Isle of Wight. However, the trial was halted in June 2020, reportedly due to technological issues. The app was later remodelled and launched to the public in September 2020. The rapid development, trial and discontinuation of the app over a short period of a few months meant that the mobilisation and effect of the discourses associated with the app could be traced relatively easily. In this paper we aimed to explore how these discourses were constructed in the media, and their effect on actors - in particular, those who developed and those who trialled the app. Promissory discourses were prevalent, the trajectory of which aligned with theories developed in the sociology of expectations. We describe this trajectory, and then interpret its implications in terms of infectious disease public health practices and responsibilities.

Original publication




Journal article


Health (London, England : 1997)

Publication Date



King's College London, UK.