‘Pingdemic’ fears ramp up as NHS app ‘won’t be made less sensitive for WEEKS’


NHS Covid app (pictured) will not be made less sensitive for weeks, reports say

The NHS Covid contact-tracing app won’t be made less sensitive for weeks because of mounting concerns over rising infection rates, it was claimed today.

Fears have been raised that the software will create a ‘pingdemic’ by forcing millions to take time off work, potentially leaving supermarket shelves empty and mountains of rubbish piling up in the street.

Ministers are planning to tweak the app to reduce the number of people who are told to self-isolate as a result of being ‘pinged’.

But sources told The Times that no imminent changes are expected, and that it may only be made weaker on August 16 — the same day quarantine rules end for the fully-vaccinated.

And they claimed a review of the app — ordered by the newly-appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid — may not amount to anything. 

Ministers are understood to have been spooked by soaring infection rates, with the pressure of the third wave having started to trickle through into hospitals. 

And SAGE advisers have warned they will only continue to rise, with around 2,000 admissions a day expected later this summer.

No10 wants to know how many more infections will be spotted if the app asks fewer people to self-isolate, the newspaper claimed. 

People who are ‘pinged’ are not legally obliged to isolate, which means there is little stopping Britons from simply deleting the software or ignoring its alerts.

Polling yesterday revealed a fifth of Britons are planning to delete the app and one in three 18 to 24-year-olds have done so.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick called on Britons to keep using the app today, but hinted ministers were still mulling over how to update it. 

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick (pictured visiting Redcar last week) said ministers were still considering how the app could be updated

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick (pictured visiting Redcar last week) said ministers were still considering how the app could be updated 

There are mounting warnings supermarket shelves could be left empty by the app

And bins could also be left to rot in the street because there are not enough staff available to self-isolate

There are mounting warnings supermarket shelves could be left empty by the app, and bins could also be left to rot in the street because there are not enough staff available to self-isolate

Thousands of ministers and officials are escaping self-isolation rules thanks to ‘get out of jail free card’ pilot scheme 

Thousands of ministers and government officials are escaping self-isolation thanks to a pilot scheme that amounts to a ‘get out of jail free card’, it was revealed.

The Cabinet Office, Border Force and Transport for London are among the bodies signed up to a trial that replaces quarantine with daily testing – meaning they can continue working after being ‘pinged’ for close contact with a positive case.

Michael Gove used the arrangements to avoid self-isolating when he returned from watching the Champions’ League final in Porto in May.

Several Downing Street staff have benefited from the pilot, instead being able to take daily lateral flow tests to check whether they have the virus. They can carry on duties as normal unless they develop symptoms, but must still isolate when not at work.

According to the Telegraph, some politicians have likened the scheme – which is apparently in place in businesses in utilities, manufacturing and retail – to the famous Monopoly card.

Nadhim Zahawi highlighted at the weekend that daily testing could replace self-isolation more widely in future. However, the news will raise questions about whether ministers and civil servants are getting preferential treatment when hundreds of thousands of healthy members of the public are being forced into house arrest.

Self-isolation rules aren’t due to be relaxed for fully jabbed Britons until mid-August, which has led to fears many will delete the app in case a surge in infections post Freedom Day means they get ‘pinged’ and have to quarantine.

Business leaders have warned that the tough rules could lead to a summer of chaos after Monday, when most remaining Covid curbs are due to be lifted. Lidl has party blamed empty shelves at some of its stores on so many truck drivers having to isolate.

 

He told LBC: ‘It is important that we have the app, that we take it seriously, that when we do get those messages we act accordingly.

‘But we are going to give further thought to how we can ensure it is a proportionate response.’ 

Government sources last week told the Mail the app’s ‘sensitivity’ will be reduced to cut the numbers being asked to isolate unnecessarily. 

Latest figures show more than 356,000 Brits were pinged by the app and told they could have been exposed to the virus in the last week of June. 

Modelling warned up to 2million people could be told to quarantine at home every week by the app, if cases continue to spiral. 

Britain yesterday recorded 42,000 cases in the highest figure since mid-January, as the second wave was beginning to die down. Ministers fear they could spiral to 100,000 a day by mid-August.

Business leaders have warned the app could lead to a summer of chaos after Monday, when most remaining Covid curbs are due to be lifted. 

Lidl has party blamed empty shelves at some of its stores on so many truck drivers having to isolate.

And councils have raised concerns over bin collections after Leeds, Bristol and Rochdale were forced to leave resident’s rubbish on the curbside after the app forced workers to stay at home.

There are reports that up to one in five workers in pubs, restaurants and bars were also self-isolating due to the app.    

The NHS app — heralded as a way to halt the spread of the virus — uses Bluetooth to estimate how close a user has been to a Covid positive patient and for how long.

This information allows it to determine whether someone is at risk of catching the virus and if they should self-isolate.

Everyone who gets alerted is advised to self-isolate for ten days, even if they have had both doses of the vaccine or a negative test 

Ministers have promised to drop isolation requirements for the double-jabbed on August 16, but are under pressure to push this date forward. 

More than 26million Britons have downloaded the app — or around half the adults in the country — but many are now deleting and deactivating it.

Mr Jenrick said today the Government was ‘concerned’ about the number of people who may have to self-isolate because of the app, but that it should still be followed.

‘We have indicated that for those who have been double-vaccinated there are opportunities to take a more proportionate approach,’ he told LBC.

‘We are concerned about absences as a result of being pinged, for example.

‘That is one of the reasons why we do need to move to a more proportionate approach.’

It comes after polling revealed yesterday that a fifth of Britons are planning to delete the NHS app before ‘Freedom Day’ amid fears they may be asked to self-isolate.

It also found more than a third of 18 to 24-year-olds in the UK have already deleted the app, and another third say they are considering wiping it from their phones within the next week.

Among adults of all ages, the proportion debating deleting the app in the next six days was 20 per cent according to Savanta ComRes. 

The number of contact tracing alerts has been spiking as the Delta variant fuels an increase in cases, figures show

The number of contact tracing alerts has been spiking as the Delta variant fuels an increase in cases, figures show

It comes as it was revealed yesterday that thousands of ministers and government officials are escaping self-isolation thanks to a pilot scheme that amounts to a ‘get out of jail free card’.

The Cabinet Office, Border Force and Transport for London are among the bodies signed up to a trial that replaces quarantine with daily testing – meaning they can continue working after being ‘pinged’ for close contact with a positive case.

Michael Gove used the arrangements to avoid self-isolating when he returned from watching the Champions’ League final in Porto in May.

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