Government's list of sectors whose workers may be exempt from Covid isolation

ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener reports on the new isolation guidance on Thursday, July 22

The list of workers who could skip Covid isolation if they are "pinged" by the NHS Test and Trace app was released by ministers amid growing pressure.

Workers can find out if they will be exempt from the isolation rules after the government last Thursday released a list of sectors which could grant people eligibility.

But they have to be fully vaccinated, and people will still need to self-isolate if they have tested positive for Covid-19 and will be expected to remain in isolation when not carrying out their roles.

It comes as at least 10,000 workers in the food supply industry last Thursday saw a rule change on self-isolation, instead moving a "test to return to work" policy.

The government was pushed into releasing a list despite previously refusing to do so after complaints from various industries struggling to stay open - due to their staff being told to quarantine.

The policy only applies to named workers if their employer has received a letter from the relevant government department.

"This is not a blanket exemption for all workers in a sector," the guidance said.

Full list of sectors who may be exempt from Covid isolation

  • Border control

  • Civil nuclear

  • Clinical consumable supplies

  • Digital infrastructure

  • Emergency services

  • Energy

  • Essential chemicals

  • Essential defence

  • Essential transport

  • Food production and supply

  • Local government

  • Medicines

  • Medical devices

  • Waste

  • Water

  • Veterinary medicines

As of Monday, July 26, ITV News understands these workers/sectors will be added to the exemption list:

  • Prisons

  • Defence staff such as soldiers

  • Refuse collectors

  • Some veterinary staff and telecoms organisations

Government guidance also states "in some exceptional cases" there may be critical roles in other sectors which could be agreed on a case-by-case basis.

Officials will "agree the roles and workplaces that are likely to meet the criteria" for the self-isolation exemption "on a daily basis".

"Where a specific case meets the criteria, the employer will receive a letter from the relevant department setting out the named critical workers designated and telling them what measures they and those workers need to follow," the guidance said.

The isolation guidance had been expected much earlier in the day last Thursday, but was released on the government's website just after 9pm.

It came as Kwasi Kwarteng told ITV News on Thursday morning the government would be "publishing guidance today on who might be exempt" from quarantine if they've been pinged by the NHS Covid app.

"We're going to come up with guidance on specific sectors who may be exempt and that will come very soon, today," Mr Kwarteng added.

Meanwhile, the food industry saw rules relaxed with workers instead needing to test daily rather than self-isolate - if they have been in contact with someone who has contracted Covid.

Businesses are hoping their staff can soon avoid 10 days in self-isolation. Credit: PA

Emergency workers on Saturday were added to this "test to return to work" policy, while on Monday ITV News learnt that prison workers, defence staff such as soldiers, refuse collectors, and some veterinary staff and telecoms organisations will also be added to it.

It means those who have received an NHS Covid 19 app alert to isolate, or have been called by Test and Trace, will be able to continue working if they test negative.

Priority testing sites, including the largest supermarket distribution centres, have been earmarked for rollout this week - with up to 700 sites poised to partake in the initiative this week.

There were widespread reports of businesses facing staff shortages, with between 5% and 10% of staff within the British Meat Processor's Association off work after being pinged and dozens of councils in England have been forced to cancel bin collections due to a diminished workforce.

In the week to July 14, 618,903 people were 'pinged' by the NHS Covid app - the highest weekly figure ever recorded.

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

Iceland Managing director Richard Walker had urged the government to make retail staff exempt from self-isolation after around 1,000 staff were sent home from work for Covid related reasons - 64% of which had been pinged by the app.

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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Mr Walker told ITV News: "We don't have time to wait for the government to sort out clarity on this policy and we're hiring 2,000 extra staff temporarily to cover the expected increase in shortfall of staff across our 30,000 store population."

He added: "Iceland is a critical service, and we're struggling to function at the moment.

"That's why we need clarity and we need key worker exception for retail worker and HGV drivers around this self-isolation rules so we can get on with our critical job of feeding the nations."

'The balance is wrong' says CBI Director Toby Danken

CBI Director Tony Danker called on the government to make a change, telling ITV News business would "grind to a halt" if not.

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