UK Dials Down COVID-19 App to Ease Self-Isolation Chaos

By Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
August 3, 2021 Updated: August 3, 2021

Under pressure from businesses and unions, the UK government has dialled down its COVID-19 app in order to ease the labour shortage that has resulted from large numbers of workers having to self-isolate.

As a result of a government review, the app will now instruct fewer people to self-isolate following contact with a person who has tested positive for the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.

While the app would previously instruct close contacts five days prior to a positive test to self-isolate, it will now look back at contacts only two days prior to a positive test.

In a statement, 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.”

He stressed that it is still important for people to isolate when asked to do so in order to curb the spread of the virus.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the update “does not impact the sensitivity of the app, or change the risk threshold, and will result in the same number of high-risk contacts being advised to self-isolate.”

It insisted that the app “continues to play a crucial role in breaking chains of transmission, preventing hospitalisations, and saving lives.”

The government cited “new analysis from leading scientists” as showing that, in the first three weeks of July, the app averted up to 2,000 cases per day and prevented 1,600 hospitalisations, assuming 60 percent compliance with instructions to self-isolate.

Though most lockdown restrictions have been lifted, the self-quarantine rules will remain in place until Aug. 16.

During the week to July 21, the app sent out almost 700,000 alerts in England and Wales, a record since it was launched. Businesses have been under strain as a large number of their workers are pinged by the NHS app and have to self-isolate.

Downing Street said last month there were “no plans” to tweak the app, but it has now been forced to shift its position to bring the “pingdemic” under control.

Labour’s shadow health minister Liz Kendall slammed the government’s U-turn.

“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,” she said.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) welcomed the change. It said up to 1,000 pubs have been forced to close temporarily due to large numbers of staff being pinged.

Trade union Unite said the change does not go far enough, and repeated its call for the automotive and steel sectors to be exempt from self-isolation rules.

Steve Turner, the union’s assistant general secretary for manufacturing, said, “The costs are horrific to workers and industry alike and there are real concerns that work will move overseas or even that steel furnaces could be damaged, which would be devastating for this industry.”

PA contributed to this report.

Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang