The NHS Covid-tracking app was today updated to alert fewer users to self-isolate in the hope of combating Britain’s ‘pingdemic’ chaos.
The app will now only find close contacts of all infected people from up to two days before they tested positive.
Previously, it had trawled back through five days of a user’s history to send out quarantine alerts.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the changes would ‘ensure we are striking the right balance’ between reducing disruption and protecting those at risk.
Health chiefs have now begged the country to keep using the ‘life-saving’ software, which only offers self-isolation guidance and isn’t enforceable by law.
The app has sparked a ‘pingdemic’ as hundreds of thousands are told to stay at home, with one in ten pubs and restaurants forced to close last month by alerts according to experts.
Ministers have said people who work in food, transport and bin collection can get daily lateral flow tests instead of self-isolating.
They have also announced that double-jabbed people who are told to self-isolate by the app or Test and Trace will no longer have to do so from August 16.
But ministers are under pressure to bring this date forward to the end of this week in order to be in line with Wales.
The NHS Covid-tracking app was today updated to alert fewer users to self-isolate in hope of combating Britain’s ‘pingdemic’ chaos. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the changes would ‘ensure we are striking the right balance’ between reducing disruption and protecting those at risk
NHS figures show nearly 700,000 alerts were given out by the app in the week to July 21, the highest number since it was introduced
Graph shows: The number of people told to isolate by NHS Covid app (blue), contacts of someone testing positive reached by Test and Trace call handlers (orange) and people isolating because they tested positive (green) each month
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the changes would ‘ensure we are striking the right balance’ between reducing disruption and protecting those at risk. Dr Jenny Harries called on Britons to keep using the app. She is pictured above at a Downing Street press conference
Some customers have been panic buying, leaving some gaps in the shelves (pictured, shelves in Sainsbury’s in Taplow, Buckinghamshire). There are some supply chain issues in general with supermarkets due to HGV lorry driver shortages because of the ‘pingdemic’
One in ten pubs and restaurants closed last month amid ‘pingdemic’
One in ten hospitality businesses in Britain had to close over the last month as the ‘pingdemic’ had a major impact on staffing levels, an industry expert said today.
The chief executive of UKHospitality highlighted how huge numbers of workers were being told to self-isolate at the same time as the reopening of the hospitality sector.
Kate Nicholls added that one in five firms have had to ‘significantly adjust their offer or services’ to cope with the pandemic as their revenues plunged.
The ‘pingdemic’ has seen record numbers of people being alerted by the NHS Covid-19 app to self-isolate in recent weeks, including 700,000 for the week to July 21.
The Government rolled out exemptions for workers it deems to be employed in critical industries, such as those in the food sector, transport and waste collection.
Daily negative test results can enable such workers who have been alerted by the app or called by NHS Test and Trace as coronavirus contacts to continue working.
Ms Nicholls told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘In the last month one in 10 of our businesses have had to close their sites and more importantly one in five have had to significantly adjust their offer or services in order to cope with the pandemic.’
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
Mr Javid said: ‘We want to reduce the disruption that self-isolation can cause for people and businesses, while ensuring we’re protecting those most at risk from this virus.
‘This update to the app will help ensure that we are striking the right balance.
‘It’s so important that people isolate when asked to do so in order to stop the spread of the virus and protect their communities.’
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: ‘The NHS Covid App is a really practical example of how technology can be used to fight the biggest challenges we face in protecting and improving our health.
‘The app is the simplest, easiest, and fastest way to find out whether you have been exposed to the virus, and it has saved thousands of lives over the course of this pandemic.
‘I strongly encourage everyone, even those fully vaccinated, to continue using the app.
‘It is a lifesaving tool that helps us to stay safe and to protect those closest to us as we return to a more familiar way of life.’
A Department of Health spokeswoman claimed around 40 per cent of British adults are using the app.
But polling suggests many Britons have already deleted or deactivated the device because they do not want to be told to self-isolate.
Ministers began allowing employees in the food industry, transport, the Border Force, frontline policing and the fire service to dodge self-isolation by taking daily positive tests last month.
They have since added bin collectors, prison staff and those working in defence to the list.
And they are planning to relax strict quarantine requirements for the double-vaccinated in two weeks time.
But they are under mounting pressure to bring this date forward to be in line with Wales, which will allow the double-jabbed not to self-isolate from August 7.
The ‘pingdemic’ has left supermarkets with empty shelves and bins lying in the street because so many staff have been told to stay at home.
And one in ten pubs and restaurants have been forced to close for days by the app, says the chief of UKHospitality Kate Nicholls.
The app sent a record 700,000 alerts in the week to July 21, the latest available, which was the highest number on record.
It comes after a survey found almost half of Britons had cut back on their socialising over fears they could fall victim to the ‘pingdemic’.
Some 46 per cent of people said they reduced their contact with others because of the risk of being ‘pinged’ by the NHS‘ Covid app and being forced into self-isolation.
The YouGov poll for The Times also found that 39 per cent had not reduced their contact.
The figures show that the government’s self-isolation policy for people coming into contact with anyone who has tested positive for coronavirus is having the ‘designed’ effect of minimising the spread of the virus.
The survey of 1,722 people, conducted on July 29 and 30, also suggested the vast majority were sticking to rules, although 10 per cent said they had deleted the NHS Covid app from their phones and 13 per cent had turned off contact tracing.
Some 7 per cent of people said they had even avoided taking a Covid test because of the rules which say the 10-day period starts again if you test positive.
Source: Daily Mail UK