Transport Secretary Grant Shapps issues warning to Brits considering deleting Covid NHS app


Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today warned Britons not to ignore or delete the NHS Covid app because the virus can ‘still harm people’ — amid widespread criticism of the software which is forcing hundreds of thousands of people into isolation regardless of their vaccine status or a negative test. 

Travel quarantine rules in England are due to be eased on July 19 when lockdown restrictions are lifted wholesale, but rules on self-isolation for the fully jabbed will remain in place until August 16, raising fears that people will abandon the app en masse rather than risk having to cancel a holiday.

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

Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘You shouldn’t ignore this (the app) because it is vital information. People should want to know if they have been in contact with somebody with coronavirus.

‘You don’t want to be spreading it around. It can still harm people.’

Latest NHS statistics shows the app issued more than 350,000 alerts during the last week of June, 60 per cent up on the previous week. The growing number of people being forced into quarantine has led to fears it may create a lockdown ‘by stealth’ even after the country officially ends restrictions this month.

Pubs, restaurants and shops fear they may have to close because so many staff are being left stuck at home by the warnings, and NHS hospitals in Leeds and Birmingham have even had to cancel routine operations because so many staff are isolating. 

Up to one in 50 people in Newcastle were ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app last week after coming into contact with a positive case, MailOnline revealed today.

Alerts were sent to every area of England during the final seven-day spell of June – with even a handful of residents in the Isles of Scilly told to self-isolate for up to ten days. And nearly 30 areas of the country saw enough alerts to effectively sentence one per cent of residents living there into quarantine. 

The problem is expected to get worse as the outbreak grows, with new Health Secretary Sajid Javid warning there could be more than 100,000 new infections every day by August.   

Amid fears the app will cripple the already struggling economy this summer, the Mail can reveal that officials are working to water down the app.

Ministers have ordered an urgent review of the software over concerns it is bringing the system into disrepute by ordering too many people to self-isolate. Government sources said the app’s ‘sensitivity’ will be reduced to cut the numbers being asked to isolate unnecessarily. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today warned Britons not to ignore or delete the NHS Covid app because the virus can ‘still harm people’

The NHS Covid app issued more than 350,000 pings last week, which was the most since the Government began publishing data at the start of February. There are growing concerns it could lead to a lockdown by stealth

The NHS Covid app issued more than 350,000 pings last week, which was the most since the Government began publishing data at the start of February. There are growing concerns it could lead to a lockdown by stealth

Tens of thousands to be spared quarantine as ‘ministers rush to water-down controversial Test and Trace app so it pings fewer people’

The controversial self- isolation system will be watered down within days, amid fears it will cripple the economy and public services this summer.

Ministers have ordered an urgent review of the NHS app following concerns it is bringing the system into disrepute by ordering too many people to self-isolate.

Sources told the Mail the app’s ‘sensitivity’ will be reduced to cut the numbers being asked to isolate unnecessarily.

Figures yesterday revealed a record 50,000 a day were ordered to isolate by the app last week – more than half of the 85,000 told by the NHS to stay away from others.

At present, those using the NHS app are ‘pinged’ to self-isolate for ten days if they are found to have spent more than 15 minutes within two metres of someone who tests positive for the virus.

A computer algorithm identifies the ‘risk’ posed to everyone who came into contact with the infected person at any time from two days before they first displayed symptoms.

It is understood Health Secretary Sajid Javid is looking at reducing the sensitivity of the system. One option is that fully vaccinated people could be allowed to spend longer in close proximity with an infected person before being ‘pinged’, to reflect the extra protection vaccines provide.

NHS data for England and Wales showed Newcastle had the highest proportion of alerts from the app. A total of 6,467 pings were sent in the week to June 30.

This would be the equivalent of around 2.1 per cent of residents being told to self-isolate.

However, the true figure is likely to be much lower because the data only breaks down the number of alerts sent out – not how many people received them. Officials do not give a separate figure for how many people have been pinged.

York had the second highest proportion, with 3,580 alerts – the equivalent of up to 1.7 per cent of residents. And North Tyneside came third with 3,511 alerts, or as much as 1.7 per cent of the borough’s population.

Department of Health data shows the North East is currently the country’s Covid hotspot.

There have been outbreaks at universities in recent weeks, with 258 staff and students at York University isolating after testing positive last week.

Every area of the country had at least one ping sent by the app last week, with its alerts even reaching to the Isles of Scilly (up to five were sent), Merthyr Tydfil (44) and Torridge in North Devon (124). 

Leeds saw the highest number of alerts from the app (7,825), followed by Manchester (7,621), Birmingham (6,485) and Newcastle. 

More than 26million Britons — or almost half the country — have downloaded the app.

Current rules say everyone told to self-isolate by the app should do so, although this is not a legal requirement, regardless of whether they have been jabbed.

Ministers are planning to ease this requirement for everyone who has got both doses of the vaccine more than a month after Freedom Day on August 16. There are mounting calls to push this date forward.

At present, those using the NHS app are ‘pinged’ to self-isolate for ten days if they are found to have spent more than 15 minutes within two metres of someone who tests positive for the virus.

A computer algorithm identifies the ‘risk’ posed to everyone who came into contact with the infected person at any time from two days before they first displayed symptoms. 

What was the point in having the vaccine if we still had to keep self-isolating at the drop of a hat – or ping of a mobile?

What was the point in having the vaccine if we still had to keep self-isolating at the drop of a hat – or ping of a mobile?

Boris Johnson today pleaded with Britons not to delete the NHS Covid app saying it was still needed to battle the virus

The new director of the UK Health Security Agency Dr Jenny Harries said experts were looking to tweak the device to take account of people who have received at least two doses of the vaccine

Boris Johnson today pleaded with Britons not to delete the NHS Covid app saying it was still needed to battle the virus. The new director of the UK Health Security Agency Dr Jenny Harries said experts were looking to tweak the device to take account of people who have received at least two doses of the vaccine

Where were more than one per cent of residents ‘pinged’ last week? 

  • City of London, 534 alerts
  • Newcastle, 6,467 alerts
  • York, 3,580 alerts
  • North Tyneside, 3,511 alerts
  • Oxford, 2,472 alerts
  • Nottingham, 5,462 alerts
  • Lambeth, 4,845 alerts
  • Brighton and Hove, 4,330 alerts
  • Gateshead, 2,948 alerts
  • Warwick, 2,092 alerts
  • Wandsworth, 4,729 alerts
  • Manchester, 7,621 alerts
  • Islington, 3,241 alerts
  • Sunderland, 3,594 alerts 
  • Cambridge, 1.602 alerts
  • Exeter, 1,699 alerts
  • South Tyneside, 1,913 alerts
  • Reading, 2,001 alerts
  • Southwark, 3,954 alerts
  • Bristol, 5,672 alerts 
  • County Durham, 6,452 alerts
  • Lincoln, 1,203 alerts
  • Hammersmith, 2,143 alerts
  • Tamworth, 893 alerts
  • Lichfield, 1,212 alerts
  • Hackney, 3,171 alerts
  • Cheltenham, 1,256 alerts
  • Tower Hamlets, 3,530 alerts
  • Charnwood, 1,966 alerts 

Ignoring NHS Covid app alerts is NOT illegal: Pub owner wants to remind public that refusing to self-isolate after being ‘pinged’ is NOT against the law

A pub owner has issued a reminder to the public that it is not illegal to ignore alerts from the NHS Covid app, amid fears Test and Trace is creating a ‘lockdown by stealth’ by forcing people to stay at home even when they have been vaccinated and test negative.

App users who are ‘pinged’ after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive are not obliged to stay at home. 

They are kept anonymous through the app, meaning authorities are unable to track them down if they have been told to quarantine. 

But people contacted by NHS Test and Trace workers do have to self-isolate under regulations brought in last autumn to tackle coronavirus or face hefty fines. That rule won’t be dropped for fully vaccinated adults until August 16. 

Amid fears millions could be told to self-isolate over the next few weeks because of soaring cases, one pub owner was keen to point out notifications on the app carry no legal obligation to quarantine at home.

Writing on Twitter, the co-founder of chain Yummy Pubs Tim Foster, 40, said: ‘Good news. 

‘There is no legal requirement to isolate if notified by the app. Only legal requirement is if Test and Trace contact you. Pssst, pass it on.’ 

The reminder comes amid claims that Brits are deleting the NHS app to avoid being ‘pinged’. It has been downloaded almost 26million times. 

Professor Tony Brookes, a health data scientist from Leicester University, told MailOnline the NHS app only ‘made sense’ when many people were at risk of hospitalisation from the virus — but is now redundant.

‘The app made sense when most people were not immune to the virus and many people were dying, it made sense to limit infection,’ he said.

‘But now it is a different world, with 90 per cent of adults having antibodies and 60 per cent of youngsters having antibodies.’

He heralded the Covid vaccination programme — which has jabbed more than 45million people or 86.6 per cent of adults with at least one dose — for turning the virus into a ‘bad cold’ among the double-jabbed. 

Despite growing fears the app could soon see more than a million people isolating across the country at once, Mr Johnson yesterday pleaded with Britons not to delete it.

The PM said he knows ‘how frustrated people are’ about the self-isolation rules ‘but we have to be prudent and we have to be cautious’.

He said: ‘One of the ways of restricting the spread of the disease as you know is to ask contacts to self-isolate, it’s been going on now for a long time.

‘What we want to do is just keep going for a little bit longer so that we can get even more vaccinations into people’s arms and give ourselves even more protection.

‘But as the Health Secretary has said we are moving now from self-isolation, from a quarantine approach, to a test and release approach and the day is not too far off.’

Meanwhile, Mr Shapps today also urged people not to ignore the NHS Covid app if they are ‘pinged’ and advised to self-isolate. 

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘You shouldn’t ignore this because it is vital information. 

‘People should want to know if they have been in contact with somebody with coronavirus. You don’t want to be spreading it around. It can still harm people.’ 

England is set to lift most of its remaining Covid restrictions on July 19, which will again allow mass gatherings to take place and night clubs to reopen.

But figures suggest the country could start recording more than 100,000 cases by this point, with one SAGE adviser saying last week this could lead to a lockdown by stealth with ‘large numbers of people’ stuck at home. 

Experts have warned that up to 3.5million a week could be asked to self-isolate if case numbers continue to rise. 

Business leaders are venting their fury against the app, warning it threatens to cause chaos for their workforce even before July 19.  

Iceland supermarket boss Richard Walker said the difference between lockdown being lifted and self-isolation rules being eased would result in a ‘s*** show for business’.

He said: ‘Our Covid-related absences are growing exponentially. Within a week or two they’ll be the highest ever.’

Kate Nicholls, boss of trade body UKHospitality, said: ‘This is not just a hospitality issue – it is affecting the whole economy and we need an earlier test to release system in place.’

Health bosses have urged ministers to ease the self-isolation rules early for double-jabbed NHS workers amid fears ‘very high pressure on staffing levels’ will get worse.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, told The Times: ‘Trust leaders are already asking whether, if double-vaccinated members of the public won’t be required to self-isolate after August 16, this date can be brought forward for NHS staff, who were one of the first groups to be vaccinated.’

Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said there are ‘rapidly rising levels of staff absence, in part because staff are having to isolate for Covid reasons’.

It is understood Health Secretary Sajid Javid is looking at reducing the sensitivity of the system. 

One option is that fully vaccinated people could be allowed to spend longer in close proximity with an infected person before being ‘pinged’, to reflect the extra protection vaccines provide. 

Mr Shapps today said the app is being kept under review to ensure it is ‘calibrated in the right way’ for the prevailing circumstances.

‘The medical experts will advise us on what the level of sensitivity should be relative to where we are, for example, to our vaccination programme overall,’ he said.

‘We will follow scientific advice, keep this under review and tweak the app to be suitable to the circumstances of the time – double vaccination, for example, being at record highs in this country.’

Dr Jenny Harries, who chairs the new UK Health Security Agency, said yesterday that work is taking place to ‘tune’ the app to reflect the growing number of people who have been vaccinated.

Ms Harries told MPs that ‘it is entirely possible to tune the app to ensure that it is appropriate to the risk’ as the vaccine rollout continues to reduce the threat of transmission.

Confirming that the app is now being updated, she said: ‘We have a piece of work ongoing at the moment because it is entirely possible to tune the app to ensure that it is appropriate to the risk.

‘When the app came into action we know it has been hugely successful but it has been utilised in a world where we did not have vaccinations.

‘So working through what a vaccinated population using the app means is something that we are actively doing at the moment.’

Public Health England data shows that the risk of catching Covid after two doses of the vaccine is slashed by up to 90 per cent among Britons. 

Grant Shapps urges people not to ignore the NHS Covid app if they are told to self-isolate 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured today) has urged people not to ignore the NHS Covid app if they are advised to self-isolate

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured today) has urged people not to ignore the NHS Covid app if they are advised to self-isolate

People have been urged not to ignore the NHS Covid app if they are advised to self-isolate, after cases of the dominant Delta variant rose by a third in the past week.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it is important that people continue to use the app, amid concerns about the increasing numbers being ‘pinged’ as restrictions are rolled back.

Rules governing travel for people in England are due to be eased on July 19 but measures on self-isolation for the fully vaccinated will remain in place until August 16, raising fears that people will delete the app rather than risk having to cancel a holiday.

Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘You shouldn’t ignore this (the app) because it is vital information. People should want to know if they have been in contact with somebody with coronavirus.

‘You don’t want to be spreading it around. It can still harm people.’

The number of exposure alerts sent to users of the app in England soared by more than 60% in a week, according to the latest contact tracing figures.

The head of the UK Health Security Agency, Dr Jenny Harries, told the Commons Public Accounts Committee on Thursday that work is being done to ‘tune’ the app to work within an increasingly vaccinated population to ensure it is there ‘for a purpose, not for annoyance’.

Mr Shapps reiterated this on Friday, saying the sensitivity of the app is being kept under constant review and that he has spoken to Health Secretary Sajid Javid about it.

‘He is very aware of this and we will keep it under constant review because we want the app to be a useful tool in our armoury,’ Mr Shapps told Sky News.

Professor Henry Potts, a member of the Spi-B group of behavioural experts advising the Government, said that if ministers want people to self-isolate they need to make it easier to do so.

‘The problem of people deleting the app or simply turning the app off or ignoring what it says has been a problem for many months. We have seen steadily rising numbers of people deleting the app,’ he told the Today programme.

He added: ‘The best way of improving isolation is more support – financial support, it can also be practical support.’

The latest figures from Public Health England show that 216,249 confirmed and probable cases of the Covid-19 Delta variant, first identified in India – which now accounts for approximately 99% of confirmed cases of coronavirus across the UK – have been identified in the four nations.

This is up by 54,268, a rise of 34 per cent, from the previous week.

Of the 216,249 cases, 180,643 have been in England, 28,559 in Scotland, 3,666 in Wales and 3,381 in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has stressed the benefits of getting back to the workplace when coronavirus restrictions lift.

The order to work from home is expected to be scrapped on July 19 in England and Mr Sunak said he is looking forward to the shift back to offices.

But unions have raised concerns about the lack of guidance for employees to safely return to the workplace.

Mr Sunak told the Daily Telegraph: ‘I think, for young people especially, that ability to be in your office, be in your workplace and learn from others more directly, is something that’s really important, and I look forward to us slowly getting back to that.’

There have been widespread concerns about the economic impact of people staying at home, with town centre businesses such as cafes suffering from the lack of trade as workers have been kept away from their offices.

At Step 4 of England’s road map, the guidance to work from home where possible will end, to allow employers to start planning a safe return to workplaces.

Mr Sunak said it is not for ministers to tell firms what they should or should not do, adding: ‘Ultimately I trust people and businesses to make decisions for themselves.’

The Trades Union Congress has written to ministers to raise concerns about the lack of consultation on plans which will affect millions of workers.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady warned that without detailed plans the country could be ‘hobbled by rising infections and enforced self-isolation’ keeping workers out of action.

It remains the case that the majority of people being admitted to hospital in England with the Delta variant are unvaccinated, the Public Health England figures show.

Of the 1,283 people under the age of 50 admitted to hospital in England as of June 21, 987 (77 per cent) were unvaccinated.

Some 106 (8%) were less than 21 days after their first dose of vaccine, 118 (9 per cent) 21 or more days after their first dose jab, and 48 (4%) were fully vaccinated.

For the 615 people aged 50 or over, almost one third were unvaccinated, while 265 (43%) were fully vaccinated.

As of June 21, there had been 257 deaths in England of people who were confirmed as having the Delta variant and who died within 28 days of a positive test.

Of the 26 people under 50, three were at least 21 days after a first dose of vaccine, two had received both doses and 21 were unvaccinated.

Of the 231 people aged 50 or over, 71 were unvaccinated while 116 had received both doses.

DR MAX PEMBERTON: Why doctors like me have chosen to DELETE the NHS Test and Trace app

We heard rumours of doctors or nurses being ‘pinged’ after just walking down corridors near wards with Covid patients

We heard rumours of doctors or nurses being ‘pinged’ after just walking down corridors near wards with Covid patients

When I downloaded the NHS Test and Trace app I thought I was doing something sensible, diligent and public-spirited. Like many of my medical colleagues, I believed I was doing my bit to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Soon though, we began to realise it wasn’t so simple. The reality of working in a hospital meant we were surrounded by people with Covid. You couldn’t avoid them, particularly at the height of the pandemic.

Colleagues were constantly being sent home to isolate even if, like me, they were double jabbed. Patients were suffering as a result. So, along with many other clinicians, I have long since deleted the app.

The NHS Covid-19 app does allow you to ‘pause’ contact tracing while working in clinical areas in full PPE. But it is a complicated affair to keep remembering to pause and un-pause depending on where you are, what you are wearing and whether the patient or other staff are wearing masks.

We heard rumours of doctors or nurses being ‘pinged’ after just walking down corridors near wards with Covid patients.

There was a constant threat that anyone might get sent home to self-isolate and this would have tremendous impacts on the service. Some wards were already running on a skeleton staff because people had been sent home to self-isolate. The app risked bringing the NHS to its knees.

Just this week, a colleague was sent home after being ‘pinged’, leaving an entire department without a consultant. As widespread regular ‘lateral’ flow testing began to be rolled out – which saw staff testing themselves at least three times a week – it seemed less relevant.

Indeed, regular lateral flow testing was introduced for the NHS specifically to address the appalling staff shortages that were the result of the NHS’s Covid policy – which stated that anyone with symptoms must stay at home for seven days.

A sense of duty and a desire to do the right thing prompted doctors and nurses to download the app

A sense of duty and a desire to do the right thing prompted doctors and nurses to download the app

Each time I was sent home, I consistently tested negative meaning I could have continued working

Each time I was sent home, I consistently tested negative meaning I could have continued working

So during the pandemic, up to one in four doctors were at home self-isolating at any one time. Regular testing was intended to put a stop to this, but the app put us back to square one.

The risks of being sent home – with the consequent, serious impact on patients – began to far outweigh the benefits of the app.

If we doctors had picked up the virus, we would soon know anyway because we were being tested so regularly. When my boss at the time found out I’d downloaded the app, he was horrified.

What if it went off after seeing a patient and I was sent home? I had already been forced to self-isolate several times after being exposed to confirmed cases of Covid, meaning entire clinics being cancelled, on-calls hastily rearranged and locums booked. It was costly both in terms of administration and patient care.

Each time I was sent home, I consistently tested negative meaning I could have continued working. The idea that would keep happening was simply too much once vaccination started.

I think this was the tipping point for many NHS staff. What was the point in having the vaccine if we still had to keep self-isolating at the drop of a hat – or ping of a mobile? It seemed ridiculous so I, along with a significant number of others I suspect, quietly pressed ‘delete’.

When I asked medical friends this week who still uses the app, not one said they did.

They have either turned it off or deleted it entirely. Earlier this week Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, raised fears of ‘huge swathes’ of public services unable to cope in the coming weeks because of the numbers self-isolating.

Ashworth said changes planned for August 16 should be brought forward, with people given daily lateral flow tests and PCR tests where needed (to confirm a positive lateral flow). This so-called ‘test and release’ approach would mean that those who tested negative could quickly return to work, preventing the chaos and disruption that occurred last year.

A sense of duty and a desire to do the right thing prompted doctors and nurses to download the app. Now, seeing the pandemonium it brings, is it any surprise we are giving up on it?

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk