NHS Covid app 'especially important' in battle against virus, public health bosses say

A notification issued by the NHS coronavirus contact tracing app - informing a person of the need to

Suffolk Public Health say the NHS app is "especially important" in the county's struggle to suppress the coronavirus. - Credit: PA

Public health bosses have underlined the importance of the NHS Covid-19 app, as reports of people deleting the app amid the 'pingdemic' mount.

As the number of people having to self-isolate due to coronavirus piles pressure on businesses, Public Health Suffolk has said the app is "especially important" in the county's struggle to suppress the illness.

A spokesman for Public Health Suffolk said: "Along with mask-wearing and keeping your distance, self-isolating when asked is a key factor in the fight against coronavirus. These small acts of kindness can help protect Suffolk’s most vulnerable.

"The NHS Test & Trace app is especially important at the moment when cases are rising as one in three people don’t have any symptoms and therefore spread the virus without realising.

"Being pinged by the app and self-isolating breaks the chain of infection and will help keep rates in Suffolk low."

Government figures show that in the week to July 1, more than 500,000 people in England and Wales were 'pinged' by the NHS Covid app to self-isolate.

Under current government rules people 'pinged' by the app do not legally have to self-isolate, unlike those who test positive for coronavirus or are contacted by NHS contract tracers.

(left to right) Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears on a screen from Chequers, the country house of

A spokesman for the Prime Minister, who is self-isolating, has said it is 'crucial' to self-isolate when told to do so by the app. - Credit: PA

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However, a Downing Street spokeswoman said it was "crucial" for people to self-isolate if alerted to do so by the NHS app. 

The spokeswoman said: “Isolation remains the most important action people can take to stop the spread of the virus.

“Given the risk of having and spreading the virus when people have been in contact with someone with Covid, it is crucial people isolate when they are told to do so, either by NHS Test and Trace or by the NHS Covid app.

“Businesses should be supporting employees to isolate, they should not be encouraging them to break isolation.”

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson resisted calls for a more wide-reaching change to quarantine rules to reduce the number of people in isolation.

However, plans to relax the self-isolation rules for fully-vaccinated critical workers are also starting to be put into place in an effort to ease the 'pingdemic'.

No 10 said on Tuesday that NHS staff and workers in other sectors are among those who were granted approval to avoid quarantine for crucial work reasons as Covid-19 infections soar.

However, a spokesman was unable to say how many people the government will approve for the loosened rules, ahead of the full relaxation for everyone who is double-jabbed on August 16.

The Suffolk Public Health spokesman said that financial support is available for people on lower incomes who had to self-isolate. For more information click here.

What you need to know about the 'pingdemic'

  • What are the current self-isolation rules?

NHS guidance says that people should self-isolate immediately if they have Covid-19 symptoms, test positive for the virus, live with someone with symptoms or has tested positive, or have been told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace or the NHS Covid-19 app.

People isolating should not go to school, work or public places, use public transport or taxis, go out for food or medicine, have visitors, or go out for exercise.

  • So anyone pinged by the app has to isolate?

It is not as simple as that.

While there is a legal duty in England for people to self-isolate if they test positive or are contacted by NHS Test and Trace, this does not extend to the app.

So people who do not isolate after testing positive or being contacted by NHS Test and Trace can face fines of up to £10,000 – this does not apply to people being pinged.

The Government has said this is because users of the official NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app are anonymous and “we cannot force them to self-isolate or identify them if they are not self-isolating”.

Also, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that isolation rules will be relaxed for a “small number” of fully-vaccinated critical workers including health and care workers.

Mr Johnson also said it was necessary to keep the isolation rules largely unchanged until August 16, when a testing regime will replace the requirement for fully-vaccinated contacts to isolate.

  • How does NHS Test and Trace work?

If you test positive for coronavirus, you will be contacted by contact tracers and asked to provide details of people you have been in close contact with and places you have visited.

In England, if you have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19, you will be contacted and told to isolate for 10 days from your last contact with the person with Covid-19, even if you do not have symptoms.

  • What about the app?

The app uses Bluetooth from your smartphone to keep a log of others who are also using the app whenever they are in close proximity to you.

To be considered a close contact, it generally means having been within two metres of someone for 15 minutes or more, such as on a bus journey.