COVID-19: NHS app being updated to ping fewer people to isolate
Fewer contacts of people with coronavirus will be told to isolate by the NHS COVID-19 app after an update.
The “logic” which underpins how close contacts are identified and notified will be changed following a review into the NHS COVID-19 app by the health secretary, the Department for Health and Social Care said.
It will now only look back at contacts two days before someone who is asymptomatic tests positive, as opposed to the five days of contacts the app was tracking before.
Health Secretary Sajid 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.”
The government said the change will mean fewer people who were in contact with a person when they were unlikely to be at the peak of their infectiousness will be told to self-isolate.
It added that the sensitivity of the app will not be impacted, nor will the risk threshold.
The same number of high-risk contacts will be advised to self-isolate, a government spokesman said.
Mr Javid ordered a review of the app as increasing numbers of people without symptoms and who never tested positive were forced to self-isolate.
Branded the “pingdemic”, business leaders criticised the app as it was forcing thousands of people off work and crippling businesses.
Figures released last week showed that a record 689,313 alerts were sent to users of the app in England and Wales in the week up to 21 July.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, which represents the hospitality industry, said the app update was a “positive step forward”.
“But it must be brought in with immediate effect and doesn’t obviate the need for a test to release scheme to be in place to allow people safely to return to work,” she added.
Labour’s shadow health minister Liz Kendall said: “This is yet another COVID U-turn from ministers at a time when the public need clarity and certainty – not chaos and mixed messages. It’s shambolic and they must get a grip.”
From 16 August, people who are fully vaccinated will no longer have to isolate when identified as a close contact of someone who tests positive.
But there have been calls for this change to be brought forward to ease the impact of the “pingdemic”.
Ministers have resisted this thus far, but exemptions have been introduced for certain key industries.
There have also been suggestions that a number of people have been deleting the app in order to avoid being “pinged”.
The Department of Health said the app “continues to play a crucial role in breaking chains of transmission, preventing hospitalisations and saving lives”, with around 40% of the eligible population continuing to regularly use it.
New analysis suggests the app prevented up to 2,000 cases a day in the first three weeks of July.
Assuming that 60% of users followed the order to isolate, more than 50,000 cases were prevented during that time period, including chains of transmission, the analysis also suggests.
Scientists believe this caseload would have amounted to 1,600 hospital admissions.
“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,” Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said.
“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.”