More than 685,000 told to isolate by NHS Covid app in record week for 'pingdemic'

ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports on the drive to vaccinate younger people as the number of 'pings' to self-isolate reaches a record high

More than 685,000 people were told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app in the week to July 21 - a record number for the 'pingdemic'.

At least 689,313 alerts were sent to users of the NHS Covid-19 app in England and Wales, telling them they had been in contact with coronavirus and must self-isolate, figures show.

The number of people told by their app to self-isolate has been growing week on week, with more than 500,000 people being pinged in the week to 7 July, a 46% rise on the previous week.

ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports that testing sites are being set up for critical industries but many are not yet operational

In the week to July 14, 618,903 people received notifications informing them they should self-isolate - an increase of 19%.

The government released a "limited" list of critical roles which could be exempt from self-isolation after a coronavirus contact after businesses warned of severe staff shortages causing huge issues in their industries.

Food production workers were among those exempt from self-isolation after widespread reports of empty supermarket shelves.

People are only exempt from self-isolation if they have received two Covid-19 vaccinations and they test negative for the virus - anyone who tests positive must stay at home for 10 days.

All double-jabbed Britons will be exempt from self-isolation rules from August 16, when the government hopes to have offered two vaccinations to every adult.

The government had said it would help set up 2,000 testing sites for critical workers to allow them to avoid unnecessary quarantine if they don't have the virus - but just 260 sites have opened.

Boris Johnson's spokesman the government is currently establishing 800 sites which will be open "shortly" and a further 1,600 will be set up "in the coming days".

With self-isolation exemptions becoming available to all fully-vaccinated in less than three weeks, many have questioned why it is taking so long to meet the 2,000 site aim.

The PM's spokesperson said: "Our intention is to get these up and running as quickly as possible so we can ensure the industries that require people to ensure that they provide the critical service they provide and continue to do so."

Despite huge numbers of people being pinged, the date for relaxing isolation restrictions will not be brought forward.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said "it is only now less than three weeks until August 16 - it is important that we use this ability to make sure that people aren't spreading the virus around to keep suppressing the numbers".

"It's an important part of our armoury at the moment but we've got an end date for it and that's in less than three weeks time."

He said people were being alerted to self-isolate because lots of people had been testing positive for coronavirus, but new infections are starting to fall and as a result so with notifications from the app.

The government has insisted that self-isolation will still play an important role in keeping coronavirus cases low and has repeatedly urged anyone who tests positive to stay at home.

But the most testing figures show that some positive cases could be slipping through the net.

Jusy 63.7% of people who were tested for Covid-19 in England in the week ending July 21 at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit received their result within 24 hours - down from 64.7% in the previous week.

Prime Minister Johnson had pledged that, by the end of June 2020, the results of all in-person tests would be back within 24 hours.

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He told the House of Commons on June 3 2020 he would get "all tests turned around within 24 hours by the end of June, except for difficulties with postal tests or insuperable problems like that".

Meanwhile, 307,758 people tested positive for coronavirus in England between 15 July and 21 July 2021, a 18% increase compared to the previous week - the highest weekly number of people testing positive since the week ending January 13, 2021.

More recent daily figures released by the government have told a different story, with new daily coronavirus infections falling for seven days in a row until a small jump on Wednesday.

A total of 23,511 new positive tests were reported in the UK on Tuesday, close to half of the figure a week previously - 46,558.

On Tuesday deaths 131 deaths were reported, the highest since mid-March, but fatalities dropped down to 91 on Wednesday.