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Pingdemic: NHS Covid app updated to reduce number of contacts told to isolate

Only contacts from the previous two days, instead of the previous five days will have to self-isolate.

Image: PA Images

THE NHS COVID-19 app is being updated so fewer contacts will be instructed to isolate amid an increase in people being pinged since England’s legal pandemic restrictions ended.

The “logic” behind the app’s system will be tweaked for England and Wales, meaning a person will need to have been near a positive but asymptomatic individual two days prior, instead of five, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

Changes do not mean the sensitivity has been altered, nor the risk threshold.

“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,” Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid said.

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 so-called ‘pingdemic’ is a nickname for the a significant number of people in the UK who are receiving close-contact notifications from the NHS Test and Trace app, which means they must self-isolate, and is is said to be disrupting workers and businesses.

It has caused disruption to several sectors, with record numbers being alerted by the NHS Covid-19 app to self-isolate in recent weeks, including 700,000 for the week to 21 July.

The Government has responded by rolling out exemptions for workers it deems to be employed in critical industries, such as those in the food sector, along with transport, waste collection and defence staff.

Daily negative test results can enable such workers who have been alerted by the NHS Covid-19 app or called by NHS Test and Trace as coronavirus contacts to continue working.

Professor Robert West, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours , which advises ministers, said people could be refusing to get tested for coronavirus in a bid to avoid having to self-isolate.

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Prof West said it could be a factor in the difference between the high infection rate in the UK and the decrease in daily positive cases.

On Friday, Labour called for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to bring forward the date when people who have been fully vaccinated can skip self-isolation. It’s currently set for 16 August – Labour want it brought forward to the 7 August, the same date as Wales. 

After that, close contacts who are fully vaccinated will be exempt from isolation and will instead be advised to take a PCR test.

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