Covid app won't be 'tweaked' as 'one-third of people pinged develop symptoms', PM spokesperson says

ITV News North of England Reporter Hannah Miller meets the businesses opening up again, and those facing staff shortages

The NHS Covid app will not be "tweaked" as one-third of those "pinged" go on to develop symptoms, a spokesperson for the prime minister has said.

The spokesperson attributed the figures to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) as people are being warned not to ignore being told to self-isolate amid soaring numbers of those asked to do so.

There had been calls to alter the app to allow those who had a double-vaccine dose to ignore the requirement to self-isolate due to the number of people being told they had come into contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid.

Currently, after August 16 the double-jabbd and under-18s will no longer have to self-isolate if they come into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid, unless they develop symptoms themselves.

The amount of workers being told to self-isolated has triggered warnings that Monday’s so-called “freedom day” in England will turn into “chaos day” as businesses continue to struggle amid the 'pingdemic'.

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston on why this isn't the 'Freedom Day' the prime minister had envisaged

There are fears of transport problems because of the number of workers being told to self-isolated by the NHS Test and Trace app, as well as warnings of shortages of goods in supermarkets and cuts in production at factories.

The Confederation of British Industry called on the government to immediately allow double-jabbed individuals not to self-isolate for 10 days rather than wait until August 16.

Chief executive of pub chain Greene King Nick Mackenzie told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that they had to close 33 pubs due to lack of staff because of self-isolation.

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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“Across the industry we think it is about one-in-five of our team members who have been affected by this and therefore it is causing a real issue for us setting up business on a daily basis – we’re having to have shortened hours in some circumstances," he said.

Mr Mackenzie, whose group runs 2,500 pubs, hotels and restaurants across the UK, called on the government to expand its test and release scheme to allow staff who test negative for coronavirus to return to work after being “pinged”.

Businesses have continued to call for reform of self-isolation rules. Credit: PA

Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland, said over 1,000 staff were currently self-isolating despite all but a tiny fraction testing positive for Covid.

He told ITV News the "exponential rise" in the number of people being pinged was having a "very, very damaging" affect on businesses.

"We've got whole swathes of our workforce who are now being pinged and told to self isolate for 10 days.

"It's exceptionally challenging for business" - Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland says the pingdemic is having a "very damaging" affect on industry.

"Interestingly, our absence rate is the highest it's been since testing began, it's now over 1,000 people out of our 30,000 staff and that's rising 50% week-on-week.

"But out of those 1,000 people, 94% of those people tested negative and zero have any symptoms of any severity.

"The whole thing is exceptionally challenging for business and especially because it needs to be in an environment where we need to support and facilitate businesses' recovery as we can."

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union said Saturday’s closure of London Underground’s Metropolitan Line due to key staff being pinged by track and trace showed how transport services were “on a knife edge.”

General secretary Mick Lynch said: “Many rail, bus and Tube services are already seriously understaffed which leaves them dangerously exposed.

“The government’s botched handling of this latest phase of the pandemic, and the rank hypocrisy of the prime minister and his chancellor who don’t think the isolation rules apply to them, means that their freedom day could very easily collapse into chaos day.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said it was "reckless to gamble the safety of key workers, from bus drivers to supermarket staff, on individuals’ sense of personal responsibility.

“If we want to stop Covid ripping through workplaces, people must be supported to self-isolate."

Despite the fallout from the 'pingdemic', Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi told ITV News that while the government were "concerned" there would be no change in self-isolation rules until 16 August.

"By 16 August, if you are double vaccinated and you test negative after coming into contact with someone who was Covid positive you can also no longer isolate, you can go back to work.

"The reason we're being cautious and allowing ourselves a gap is to vaccinate more people, those younger families, younger cohorts - teachers and other professions. "There are no easy decisions, this is an important part of the clinical advice. The app pinging is clinical advise to anyone, to say, you've come into contact with someone with Covid, you should absolutely self-isolate."

"If you've come into contact with someone with Covid, you should absolutely self-isolate" - Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi suggests the government's self-isolation advice will not change until 16 August despite businesses struggling amid a shortage of staff due to hundreds of thousands of people being told to self-isolate

Mr Zahawi denied the government has been taking the public for “fools” after insisting multiple times that the prime minister only “considered” entering a pilot scheme to avoid having to self-isolate before deciding to stick to the rules.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused ministers of playing the system.

Speaking to reporters, he called on Boris Johnson to release a list of Conservative ministers who had been part of a trial where they would not have to self-isolate if pinged by the Covid app.

He said: “There are hundreds of thousands of people who have been forced to miss family events, close businesses and workers going without pay, because they have done the right thing."

“Let’s be clear: Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak only went into isolation because they were busted," he said.

“We’ve seen once again their instincts on show, one rule for them, another for the rest of us.

“The government needs to publish all the details of how ministers deem themselves eligible for this scheme at a time when the public have not had the same access to it.”Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has acknowledged the number of workers being “pinged” by the NHS Covid-19 app was the “single biggest issue” being raised with him by company bosses.

He told LBC “I accept it’s a difficult situation” but “there isn’t any movement on it”, and it would still be August 16 before there was a wider relaxation of the self-isolation requirement.