Covid: More jobs added to exempt-from-isolation list

More critical workers are now able to avoid coronavirus self-isolation after the government extended its list of industries with staff eligible for exemption, ITV News understands.

Among those added to the list were refuse workers, after dozens of councils across the country were forced to reduce bin collections due to staff shortages caused by high volumes being told to self-isolate.

Despite pleas from the hospitality industry, businesses in that sector will not benefit from the list being extended, ITV News has learnt.

Workers/sectors added to exemption list:

  • Prisons

  • Defence staff such as soldiers

  • Refuse collectors

  • Some veterinary staff and telecoms organisations

The government said the list expansion will benefit 1,200 key businesses and employers, on top of the 800 already identified for healthcare, food and front line services.

The announcement came after the Covid operations sub-committee of Cabinet met on Monday to discuss a response to the “pingdemic”, which has recently seen the NHS app tell almost 620,000 to self-isolate in just one week.

Exemption does not apply to workers who have tested positive for Covid-19 or to contacts who develop symptoms regardless of their role or vaccination status - self-isolation rules remain as normal in these circumstances.

Workers can be eligible for exemption from self-isolation under two parallel schemes.

One sees workers such as those involved in food supply tested for Covid-19 every day. Under this scheme, which also applies to frontline police and fire services, workers can escape self-isolation following a coronavirus contact so long as they do not test positive.

The scheme applies to everyone and not just those who are double-vaccinated.

It is understood the additions to the list announced on Monday will follow these rules.

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 other scheme, which applies to critical workers in sectors such as energy and civil nuclear, allows some staff members to avoid isolation if they test negative, have been double vaccinated, and their employer has registered them with the government as having a vital role.

This scheme does not see automatic exemption for all workers in the named sectors, instead, businesses need to contact the relevant government department and tell them which workers they think should be exempt from self-isolation.

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".

ITV News understands prison workers will now be included under the 'test to return to work' scheme. Credit: ITV Channel

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, the exemption policy is only intended to run until August 16 - when fully vaccinated close contacts will be exempt from self-isolation.

The government said it will continue to engage closely on self-isolation rules and regulations with employers over the summer.

Government guidance issued at the end of last week suggested that there is no "blanket exemption" for all workers in the named sectors and that "in some exceptional cases" there may be critical roles in other sectors which could be agreed on a case-by-case basis.

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