Covid: What to do if you get pinged by the NHS app - and who is exempt from isolation?

Credit: PA

Some essential workers may no longer need to self-isolate after coming into contact with a positive case of Covid, following concerns about a so-called "pingdemic" bringing on staff shortages.

The government announced on Thursday that workers in certain critical sectors may be exempt from Covid self-isolation rules.

In the separate "test to return to work" scheme, workers in the food supply industry and police, fire, borders and transport staff would be exempt from self-isolation if they test negative for coronavirus.

ITV News also understands that prison workers, defence staff such as soldiers, refuse collectors, and some veterinary staff and telecoms organisations will also be added to the testing scheme.

Here is an overview of how self-isolation rules are changing and who is exempt from them:

What should I do if I am contacted by NHS Test and Trace?

There is a difference if you are told to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace team or the NHS Covid-19 app.

If you have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19, you will be alerted by NHS Test and Trace by text, email or phone call. You can then log on to the NHS Test and Trace website to chat with a team member.

You will be told to self-isolate for 10 days from your last contact with the person who tested positive. The isolation period includes the date of your contact and the next 10 full days.

You are legally required to self-isolate if you are told to do so by NHS Test and Trace. If you don't or if your boss prevents you from doing so, you or your employer could get a fine starting from £1,000.

But some workers are now exempt from self-isolation rules. Details below.Full government guidance on how the NHS Test and Trace system works here.

Credit: PA

What should I do if I am pinged by the NHS Covid app?

The venue check-in feature works independently of the contact tracing feature. If you get a venue alert, the app will not tell you to self-isolate.

But if you are told to self-isolate via the NHS Covid-19 app as you have been in close contact with someone, you should self-isolate and get a test, but this is not a legal requirement.

The government advice is that you should self-isolate for the full period, even if you have no symptoms and even if you test negative.

If you develop coronavirus symptoms during this 10-day period, you should use the symptom checker in the NHS Covid-19 app to find out if it could be coronavirus. If the app confirms 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 you receive your result and advice on what to do next.Full government guidance on how the NHS Covid-19 app works here.

Mr Johnson receives his second jab of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine from James Black, at the Francis Crick Institute in London Credit: Matt Dunham/PA

If I've had both vaccines, do I still need to self-isolate?

For the time being, yes.

But from August 16, the rules will change so that fully vaccinated close contacts of positive cases will not have to self isolate.

Instead, double-jabbed close contacts will be advised to take a PCR test.

Which critical workers are exempt from self-isolation after being in close contact to a positive case?

The government has set out a list of sectors that are considered to provide "critical services".

Fully-vaccinated workers in these sectors may be able to escape self-isolation rules even if they came into contact with someone who tested positive. It is likely they will also need to get tested regularly.

Of course the exemption does not apply if they tested positive for Covid-19 or develop symptoms.

The critical sectors are:

  • 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

The government said there may be critical roles in sectors not listed above and these will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

But workers in the sectors listed above do not get an automatic exemption. Businesses in these sectors need to contact the relevant government department and tell them which workers they think should be exempt from self-isolation.

There have been widespread reports of shops struggling to keep food on shelves. Credit: PA

The government will then decide whether or not the workers meet the criteria to be exempt.

The criteria is that the person's absence would have a "major detrimental impact on the availability, integrity or delivery of essential services" or a "significant impact on national security, national defence, or the functioning of the state".

The government has promised that decisions will be made "rapidly on a case-by-case basis and kept under review".

The business will then receive a letter from the government listing the named workers and the measures they need to follow.

Full government guidance here.

What is the "test to return to work" scheme and who does it apply to?

The "test to return to work" scheme applies to workers in the food supply chain and it has been expanded to include emergency services - police officers and firefighters - along with Border Force staff and some transport workers.

The daily testing scheme replaces self-isolation for these workers - 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.The government has announced 200 more testing sites so these critical workers can be tested daily.

The scheme applies to everyone within these sectors and not just those who are double vaccinated. What about healthcare workers who have come in close contact with positive cases?

Separate arrangements are in place for frontline health and care staff whose absence may lead to a "significant risk of harm", the government has said.

Double-vaccinated frontline NHS and social care staff in England who have been told by NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate or advised to do so by the app, can continue to go to work if they follow a testing regime.

Staff need to have a negative PCR test and take lateral flow tests for at least seven days and up to the end of the identified self-isolation period.

The government said the decision to allow NHS staff to work after being told to self-isolated should be made on a "case-by-case basis, and only after a risk assessment".

The decision must be authorised by the organisation’s local Director of Infection Prevention and Control, the lead professional for health protection, or the Director of Public Health relevant to the organisation.