Work taking place to 'tune' NHS Covid app to take account of vaccine protection

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Work is taking place to “tune” the NHS Covid app to take account of the fact increasing numbers of people have been vaccinated, the head of the UK Health Security Agency has said.

Giving evidence to the Commons Public Accounts Committee, Dr Jenny Harries said the app – which alerts people to the need to self-isolate if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive – was introduced before vaccines were available.

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 later in the summer.

Listen to our Covid podcast, Coronavirus: What You Need To Know

“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,” Dr Harries said.

“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.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended the app on Friday saying it "provides useful information" but he added the app would change as coronavirus restrictions were eased.

He told ITV News: "The app provides useful can’t see somebody who has coronavirus, so it’s providing information you wouldn’t otherwise be aware of when someone then reports that they have tested positive and then that you’re told you’ve been near them."

He added: "I keep it on my phone, I absolutely intend to keep it on there, everyone should keep it on there.

"We’ll make sure that app is appropriate to the rules at any given time and we will make sure we do that over the next couple of weeks as we hope the rules change."

On Thursday Chancellor Rishi Sunak suggested self-isolation for those pinged by the NHS app could be altered.

Acknowledging the "frustration" of businesses he said on Thursday that Health Secretary Sajid Javid is looking at a "proportionate and balanced" approach for the app.

Most of England’s remaining lockdown restrictions will end if the government proceeds with Step 4 on July 19, but changes to self-isolation rules will not come in for another four weeks.

Mr Sunak told ITV News: “When it comes to businesses, of course I know they are frustrated... I recognise their frustration about the self isolation.

"I have spoken to the health secretary about this, he’s also aware of those concerns."

He added: "Most people’s concerns rest with the app, which accounts for the majority of self-isolation, what the health secretary is doing is he’s asked his team for advice on making sure the app is working in a proportionate and balanced way."

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer warned on Wednesday that the plans to end restrictions could lead to a “summer of chaos and confusion”.

He told Prime Minister Boris Johnson that businesses fear “carnage” with the loss of staff to isolation, and people having to cancel social plans.

Some people have suggested they have deleted the app to avoid isolation requests for contacts with Covid-19 infections.

Lockdown rules in England: What's changing from July 19

What has happened to social distancing and the rule of six?

The 'one metre plus' rule has been scrapped entirely, as of July 19 in England. However, some guidance to maintain social distancing in certain situations will remain in place of the legal restrictions.

Social distancing guidance will continue if someone is Covid positive and self-isolating, or in airports, or other ports of entry, to avoid travellers arriving from amber or red-list countries mixing with those from green list areas.

Limits on social contact in England have disappeared, meaning the end of the rule of six indoors and the limit of 30 people for outdoor gatherings.

Do I still need to wear a face mask?

There is now no legal requirements to wear face coverings - but guidance still encourages using masks in some settings, including hospitals, healthcare settings and in crowded enclosed public spaces.

Has the working from home guidance changed?

The guidance on working from home has gone. It's ultimately down to employers to decide whether to keep staff at home or in the office, but the government say employers are able to plan the return of staff to the workplace.

What about weddings and funerals?

The current limits on numbers of people who can attend weddings, funerals and other life events has ended.

What's happening in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

The changes to Covid rules announced by Boris Johnson, only impact England and will not change regulations in Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland.

The Welsh Government “would like to move together” with other parts of the UK in lifting coronavirus restrictions but will only do so if it is “right for Wales”, health minister Eluned Morgan said on Monday 5 July.

As of July 19, restrictions in Scotland have eased, with all areas of the country moving to level 0. The government is aiming to lift all major restrictions in Scotland by August 9.

In Northern Ireland, some significant restrictions have already been eased including allowing the resumption of live music and the lifting of caps on organised outdoor gatherings.

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Changes to self-isolation rules in England will not come in until August 16.

Fully-vaccinated individuals and under-18s will no longer be told to stay at home if they have come into contact with a coronavirus case but will instead be advised to take a test.

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