Covid-19: Crucial for pinged people to self-isolate – No 10

NHS Covid app

image copyrightChristopher Furlong

Downing Street has insisted it is “crucial” to self-isolate when sent an alert by the Covid app – and businesses should help employees to do so.

It comes after business minister Paul Scully said he would encourage people who are “pinged” to self-isolate but they can make an “informed decision”.

The app has always been voluntary to download and any alerts are advisory.

Labour accused the government of “making it up as they go along” and creating confusion.

In recent days, there has been widespread criticism that the app has been sending out so many alerts that hundreds of thousands of people are self-isolating and missing work, causing widespread disruption.

Pub chains, supermarkets, transport networks and other businesses have warned of the crippling effect blanket stay-at-home orders for close contacts were having on their operations.

People who are “pinged” by the NHS Covid app and told they have been in close contact with someone with coronavirus are advised – but not legally obliged – to self-isolate for 10 days.

However, anyone contacted directly by NHS Test and Trace – either by phone, text or email – must self-isolate.

Asked whether people should self-isolate if they are “pinged”, Mr Scully told the BBC: “I would absolutely encourage people to do that. But they can make an informed decision.

“I don’t want to have to mandate people and tell people what to do as government any longer than I really have to.

“But they do have a responsibility to themselves, to their families and to their communities. It’s by doing the right thing that we can keep Covid at bay.”

He added that self isolation was a “really important tool” alongside the vaccination programme, adding that an estimated 8,000 lives had been saved by it over the last few months.

Earlier, he told Times Radio that self-isolating after being told to by the app was a decision for individuals and employers.

“It’s important to understand the rules,” he said. “You have to legally isolate if you are… contacted by Test and Trace, or if you’re trying to claim isolation payments. The app is there to allow you to make informed decisions.”

Following the minister’s round of media interviews, Downing Street attempted to clarify the government’s position, insisting isolation remained the “most important action” people can take to stop the spread of the virus.

“Given the risk of having and spreading the virus when people have been in contact with someone with Covid, it is crucial people isolate when they are told to do so, either by NHS Test and Trace or by the NHS Covid app,” a No 10 spokeswoman said.

“Businesses should be supporting employees to isolate, they should not be encouraging them to break isolation.”

‘Get a grip’

John Edmunds, professor of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of Sage, disagreed with Mr Scully’s comment that self-isolating should now be up to individuals.

He told Times Radio that contact tracing and self-isolation should be maintained “as stringently as we can”.

“We have one of the highest rates of cases in the world right now. The NHS has been under strain for a long time and they are busy trying to catch up on operations and are very, very busy. So to put them under more pressure now is going to be awkward,” he added.

Justin Madders, Labour’s shadow health minister, accused the government of “making it up as they go along”.

“Yet again there is more confusion and incompetence from the heart of government at the expense of public health. They need to get a grip,” he said.

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While the Covid app can only advise people to self-isolate, anyone in England who is called, texted or emailed by NHS Test and Trace must isolate for 10 days.

Failure to self-isolate for the full time period can result in a fine, starting from £1,000.

It had previously been announced that from 16 August, people who have been fully vaccinated in England will no longer have to self-isolate.

In other developments:

  • The government is expected to give more details later about which fully vaccinated key workers, such as NHS, food and border staff, will no longer have to self-isolate after contact with someone with Covid – and would take daily tests instead
  • In the week ending 9 July, there were 213 deaths involving Covid reported in England, Scotland and Wales – 82 more than were registered the previous week, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (there were no figures available for Northern Ireland because of a bank holiday)
  • More than one million children in England were out of school last week due to Covid-related reasons, government figures show

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