Soaring numbers self-isolating sees ministers discuss roll-out of further exemptions

Credit: PA

More people could be able to test daily and avoid self-isolation rules, as ministers meet to discuss the plan in a bid to end the vast numbers of people stuck at home after being 'pinged' by the NHS app.

Daily testing is now in force for a limited list of sectors, and key industries, after bosses warned of staff shortages leading to food shortages and empty shelves.

Further exemptions from isolation could be added for other critical workers, however, after last week's figures saw the highest number of people 'pinged' in England and Wales since records began.

It comes as the health secretary was forced to apologise for suggesting people should not “cower” from the virus.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

In a tweet, Mr Javid has urged people: “Please, if you haven’t yet, get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus.”

His comments were slammed, with many branding them insensitive to bereaved families and the nearly 130,000 who have died from Covid.

The Covid operations sub-committee of Cabinet will meet on Monday to discuss whether to widen the number of jobs eligible for the testing regime, or whether to boost the numbers for existing sectors in order to tackle the “pingdemic”.

Their decisions will depend on the demand registered with Whitehall departments and the ministers’ determination of what roles are currently critical, with refuse collectors expected to receive assistance, while the hospitality industry is not.

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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The vast number of people isolating after being “pinged” as Covid contacts by the NHS app has been fuelled by the high numbers of coronavirus infections that has swept the nation as the Delta variant thrived and restrictions were eased.

While the number of new cases of Covid-19 reported each day in the UK has fallen for the fifth day in a row, it is too early for the data to show any impact of ending most of England’s remaining legal restrictions on July 19 because of the delay between people becoming infected and receiving tests.

Ministers have so far resisted pressure from business leaders and some senior Conservative MPs to immediately bring forward the wider relaxation of isolation rules for all fully-vaccinated people from August 16.

Instead they have been focusing on granting a limited number of exemptions to keep key services running and to protect essential supply chains.

Fans outside Wembley Stadium after the Euro 2020 group match between England and Scotland Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

Around 10,000 workers in the food sector are expected to be included in the scheme for fully vaccinated workers to be exempt from isolation if they test negative.

But figures in the food industry have warned shortages on the shelves could continue without more exemptions in the supply chain, such as in supermarkets.

New testing sites are expected to be allocated for frontline police and fire services to prevent major shortages of critical staff.

Empty shelves at a supermarket in Cambridge city centre. Credit: PA

The scale of the issue was shown by figures stating more than 600,000 people in England and Wales were told to quarantine by the NHS Covid-19 app in the week to July 14.

Policing minister Kit Malthouse apologised for delays at the border after travellers complained about “total chaos” at airports and suggested suggested some airline staff could receive some isolation exemptions.

He also acknowledged the “challenge” across policing in a Times Radio interview, as Metropolitan Police Federation Ken Marsh said 17% of officers in the capital were off last week, causing a “huge strain” on colleagues.

Reduced timetables have been introduced on railways across England after a spate of last-minute cancellations due to staff self-isolating.

A Covid-19 testing centre at Mixenden Activity Centre in Calderdale. Credit: pa

Pubs and restaurants have been angered by the refusal to grant exemptions to any of their staff, with the UKHospitality industry body warning there could be a “summer of venue closures” as staff are forced into isolation at a high rate.

It comes as the Prime Minister’s quarantine in his Chequers country residence is expected to finish at the end of Monday - alongside the Chancellor too.

Both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak had to enter 10 days of quarantine over a contact with Mr Javid - Number 10 initially said they were exempt before a furious backlash saw a swift U-turn.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Wembley Credit: Mike Egerton/PA

A total of 29,173 coronavirus cases were reported by the government on Sunday.

It was the fifth day in a row that the number of daily reported cases has decreased, with average daily cases down 15% week on week.

The last time cases fell for five days in a row was between February 5 and 9.