Concerns of staff shortages in South East as self isolate app alerts increase

Video report by ITV News Meridian's Mike Pearse

There are growing concerns from businesses across the Thames Valley and South East over staff shortages, following an increase in the number of staff receiving an NHS 'ping' alert to self isolate.

More than half a million people in England have been told to isolate through the NHS Test and Trace app in the last week alone.

Charlie Russell, a chef from Brighton, received a text saying he needed to isolate.

He says the only place he had been was his work, but none of his colleagues received an alert.

"I'm a musician and a chef. I'm concerned for both of those industries. I've got a lot of chef friends who are freelance and they're getting pinged and they can't work. And a lot of musicians I work with as well, they're getting pinged and they're relying on a lot of work that's coming up.

"There's just something not right about it and it's making people angry. It's making people want to turn ignorant to the app."

Watch: Charlie Russell

The Miller of Mansfield pub and restaurant in Goring has been forced to shut for a day after two members of staff were 'pinged' by the NHS app.

The Miller of Mansfield in Goring

Manager Mary Galer says it has lost them thousands of pounds of business.

"We work week to week day to day. It's been a hard enough year already. I don't think anybody can afford to lose anything at the moment."

Watch: Manager Mary Galer

The Test and Trace app is also having an affect on travel. Earlier this week Southern Railway ran a reduced timetable because of the number of staff self isolating. GWR says it is monitoring the situation.

Watch: Dan Panes, Great Western Railway

With the number of alerts being sent out rising considerably in the last two weeks, some Unions have issued warnings about the possible impact on the workforce.

What do people on the street make of the situation?

Watch: People in Portsmouth give their views on the Covid alerts

What has the Government said?

Downing Street said it was "highly unlikely" that the NHS Covid app was leading to "large numbers" of people being "pinged" through the walls of their house.A spokesman for the Prime Minister told reporters: "We're confident that that is not contributing to large numbers of individuals being asked to self-isolate."The app uses low-energy Bluetooth and its signal strength is significantly reduced through things like brick walls, so therefore it is highly unlikely that through brick walls would lead to an alert."Asked whether there were plans to lessen the app's sensitivity with so many users being sent alerts in recent weeks, the spokesman replied: "We keep things under review but the app is doing what it is designed to do."No 10 said those contacted by the NHS Covid app to self-isolate should follow the guidance, amid calls from some employers for "pinged" staff who test negative to be allowed to continue to go to work.

Asked about employers calling for those testing negative to break their self-isolation, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said: "We are asking people who are contacted by the app to continue to isolate, that's what we've asked people to do since the app was launched.

"The reason for that is not just to protect themselves but also to try and break the chain of transmission to other people that they may come into contact with."

Watch: GP Dr Rachel Ward

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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