Covid: Almost 620,000 told to isolate amid 'pingdemic' - highest ever figure

ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener reports on the 'pingdemic'

Almost 620,000 have been 'pinged' by the NHS Covid-19 app in England and Wales - the highest weekly figure ever recorded.In the week to July 14, 618,903 people received notifications informing them they should self-isolate as they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus.

It's a jump of 19% on the previous week, when 520,194 alerts were sent.

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The Test and Trace figures also show that a total of 259,265 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England at least once in the week to July 14.

The figure is up 33% on the previous week and is the highest since the week to January 20.

The soaring numbers of those self-isolating is creating staffing problems for businesses, bosses and unions have said.

On Thursday, industry bosses said shops are struggling to keep shelves stocked, while others may be forced to close amid employee shortages.

ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke explains what the latest Covid stats mean and how we won't see a full picture until at least a few weeks

Iceland’s managing director, Richard Walker, said the supermarket was having to hire 2,000 temporary workers to prepare for “the exponential rise in pinging”.

Tony Danken, Director of the Confederation of British Industry told ITV News business could "grind to a halt" unless changes are made.

"The government need to change tack. They had hoped to reopen the economy, instead we're going to end up closing down the economy."

'The balance is wrong' says CBI Director Toby Danken

He added: "The government's got the balance wrong [...] and business is going to start grinding to a halt unless we make a change."

Shoppers have already taken to social media to highlight empty shelves in supermarkets across the country.

How the Covid-19 NHS app works

How and when should I pause contact tracing?

Users of the app can pause contact tracing by selecting 'Manage contact tracing' on the home screen, then toggle on or off.

You should pause contact tracing when you:

  • are working behind a fixed screen and are fully protected from other people

  • store your phone in a locker or communal area, for example while working or taking part in a leisure activity like swimming

  • are a worker in health and social care and are wearing medical grade PPE such as a surgical mask

  • are a healthcare worker working in a healthcare building such as a hospital or GP surgery 

You can set a reminder to turn contact tracing back on after 4 hours, 8 hours or 12 hours. 

When contact tracing is paused, you will still be able to check into venues with an official NHS QR code poster.

Source: NHS Test and Trace

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When will I be 'pinged' by the NHS app?

If an app user tests positive for coronavirus, they can choose to share their result anonymously.

The NHS will then send alerts to other app users who have spent time near them, or been in ‘close contact', over the last few days. These alerts will never identify an individual.

‘Close contact’ is based on an algorithm, but generally means you've been within 2 metres of someone with coronavirus for 15 minutes or more. 

If the app user who tested positive booked their test through the app, the test result will come through to their app automatically. However they still need to click ‘share random IDs’ before their close contacts can be notified. If they booked their test through another route, they will also need to link their test result into the app using a code.

This means that you will not always receive a close contact alert on the same day that the person received their positive test result.

Your self-isolation period is calculated from the date at which you were in close contact with the person who tested positive. 

Source: NHS Test and Trace

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What should I do if I am 'pinged' by the app?

If you receive an alert telling you that you've been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, and you need to self-isolate, then you will have to say at home for a full 10 days following that contact.

It can take up to 10 days for symptoms to appear. People in your household will not need to isolate unless you develop symptoms.

If you develop coronavirus symptoms during this 10 day period, you are advised to use the symptom checker in the NHS COVID-19 app to find out if it could be coronavirus.

If the app confirms that you may have coronavirus, it will take you to a website where you can book a coronavirus test.

If you have coronavirus symptoms, you and anyone in your household or support bubble will have to stay at home until you’ve been tested, and got your result and advice on what to do next.

If you do not develop symptoms after 10 days, you can stop self-isolating. You will not need a coronavirus test.

If you are under 18 years old, and test positive for coronavirus, you should notify a trusted adult before taking any action.

If you have questions about how the advice applies to you, or are struggling with self-isolation, you are advised to call 111.

Source: NHS Test and Trace

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What is the difference between contact tracing and checking into venues?

Contact tracing and the venue check-in function are two methods used by the NHS COVID-19 app,

When you have contact tracing switched on, your app will use Bluetooth to know when it has come into close contact with other nearby app users.

‘Close contact’ is generally 2 metres for 15 minutes or more.

If any of those nearby app users later test positive for coronavirus, you will receive an alert with advice on what to do.

The alerts are based on a ‘risk-scoring algorithm’ developed by scientific experts.

When you check into venues using the app and official NHS QR code posters, this data is held on your phone.

If it’s identified that people who were there on the same day have since tested positive for coronavirus, you may get an alert with advice on what to do.

The venue check-in feature works independently of the contact tracing feature.

If you get a venue alert it will not tell you to self-isolate.

Source: NHS Test and Trace

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What alerts will the NHS COVID-19 app send me?

The NHS COVID-19 app will send alerts in these situations:

  • You’ve been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19). 

  • You have visited a venue where you may have come into contact with others who have since tested positive for COVID-19. 

  • Information for your local area has changed.

  • Information for your local area about variants of concern. 

  • You booked your test through the app, and your test results have arrived.

  • You have paused contact tracing and set a reminder to turn it back on.

  • Your guidance has changed. For example, your self-isolation period has come to an end. 

  • You are advised or required to update your app to the latest version. 

  • You did not select 'Notify others' or 'Do not notify others' and over 24 hours have passed. 

  • If you need to self-isolate, you'll be able to see this in the app as a self-isolation countdown timer.

  • Other alerts may say: “Possible COVID-19 Exposure''.

Source: NHS Test and Trace

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Meanwhile, in a U-turn from the government, the business secretary said a list of jobs exempt from some coronavirus self-isolation rules will be released on Thursday.

Kwasi Kwarteng said the government will be "publishing guidance today on who might be exempt" from quarantine if they've been pinged by the NHS app.

It is a shift in position from Tuesday, when Number 10 said no such list would be published because there would not be a "blanket exemption for any sector or role".

It has been a week of mixed messaging about the app from the government, who have also failed to agree whether it is "crucial" or not to self-isolate after being pinged.