Changes may be made to NHS app as millions at risk of being ‘pinged’ as Covid cases rise

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 6:20 pm
Covid cases in England are continuing to rise, with the number of exposure alerts sent to users of the NHS Covid-19 app increasing by more than 60 per cent according to the latest contact tracing figures (Photo: Shutterstock)

Covid cases in England are continuing to rise, with the number of exposure alerts sent to users of the NHS Covid-19 app increasing by more than 60 per cent according to the latest contact tracing figures.

However, the head of the UK Health Security Agency, Dr Jenny Harries, told the Commons Public Accounts Committee on Thursday (8 July) that work was being done to “tune” the app to work within an increasingly vaccinated population to ensure it was there “for a purpose, not for annoyance”.

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A total of 356,036 alerts were sent to users of the app in England in the week to 30 June, notifying them that they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid-19.

This is up from 219,391 the previous week - a jump of 62 per cent - and is the highest weekly figure since data was first published in January.

Ministers have been warned that millions of people could be “pinged” by the app or ordered to self-isolate by Test and Trace, with infections expected to hit around 100,000 cases a day in the summer.

However, Dr Harries 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.”

‘I know most people’s concerns rest with how the app is working’

Although most of England’s remaining lockdown restrictions will end if the Government goes ahead with Step 4 on 19 July, changes to self-isolation rules will not come in until 16 August.

Fully vaccinated individuals and those under the age of 18 will no longer be told to stay at home if they have come into contact with a Covid case, but will instead be advised to take a test.

People with confirmed cases of Covid-19 will still be told to self-isolate.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak recently acknowledged public “frustration” over a lot of people being pinged by the app, and said that Health Secretary Sajid Javid is looking at an “appropriate, balanced and proportionate” approach for the app.

Mr Sunak told Sky News: “I’ve spoken to the Health Secretary about this and he’s aware of the frustration that people have around this.

“I know most people’s concerns rest with how the app is working, and the Health Secretary is aware of that.

“The app counts for the majority of the people who need to isolate, I understand, on the numbers, and he’s looking at what the most appropriate, balanced and proportionate approach to isolation is in these circumstances.”