It is "crucial" to self-isolate if you are 'pinged' by the NHS Covid app, Number 10 has said, just hours after a government minister said it was not compulsory.
Mixed messaging from the government has caused confusion among businesses and workers, with a 'pingdemic' telling hundreds of thousands to self-isolate and causing hundreds of businesses to close.
Just hours after business minister Paul Scully told ITV News that people are not required to self-isolate if they are pinged by the NHS Covid app but a statement from Downing Street said it is "crucial people isolate when they are told to do so".
Mr Scully encouraged people to continue following the app's advice because "it's a really important weapon in our armoury, alongside the vaccination programme, to keep Covid at bay".
Despite saying it has saved an "estimated 8,000 lives to date" the minister said instructions from the app are only "advisory", not mandatory.
In a bid to clear up confusion, Mr Scully said: "Nothing has changed in the law around the app and isolation - this has always been the case.
"You are legally obliged to isolate if you are contacted by the contact tracing team from the NHS or if you're collecting isolation payments.
"If you are pinged by the app it is advisory because clearly not everybody has the app for starters."
While it has never been a legal requirement to quarantine if told by the app, Mr Scully's comments appeared to contradict official guidance from the NHS which says people should “self-isolate immediately” if told to do so.
His comments were followed by a Downing Street statement, which 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."
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People are being told to self-isolate by the app now more than ever before, with more than 500,000 people being pinged in the week to 7 July, a 46% rise on the previous week.
The UK has recorded more than 35,000 daily Covid-19 cases for the past week, with 54,674 on Saturday.
The most recent data shows 39,950 new cases recorded on Monday and 19 more deaths.
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies which advises ministers, attempted to encourage self-isolation by saying it is playing "an important role in stopping cases getting out of control and preventing deaths".
He told Times Radio: “It’s important we maintain these measures as stringently as we can.
“We have one of the highest rates of cases in the world right now.
“The NHS has been under strain for a long time and they are busy trying to catch up on operations and are very, very busy.
“So to put them under more pressure now is going to be awkward.”
Labour said the business minister's comments on self-isolation show the government is "making it up as they go along".
Justin Madders, a shadow health minister, said: "Ministers mix messages, change approach and water down proposals when the public and businesses need clarity and certainty. If this is a true change in approach on the app, why didn’t the prime minister set this out last night?
“Yet again there is more confusion and incompetence from the heart of government at the expense of public health. They need to get a grip.”
Explaining the move, Mr Scully said: "There's two reasons why September is the appropriate date, first of all we want to make sure that we get the definitions right and get the operation right.
Business minister on plans for vaccine passports in order to enter nightclubs:
"But secondly 85% of adults have had their first vaccination, by September everyone will have had the chance to be double vaccinated, so that's the appropriate time to start."
Clubs, backbench Tories and opposition MPs criticised Boris Johnson’s announcement on Monday – the day that clubs in England were allowed to open for the first time since March last year.
Night Time Industries Association chief executive Michael Kill accused the government of “an absolute shambles”.
Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders said: “How can it be safe to go to nightclubs now, with no protective measures, if in September it will require double jab status? It makes no sense.”