Figures show that more than one million English pupils were out of school for ‘Covid-related reasons’ last week – 774,000 of these were self-isolating after having come into contact with another pupil at school who tested positive for the virus. In London, a Tube line has been suspended due to staff being told to isolate by the NHS Covid app. Meanwhile, businesses across the country – including Iceland and Greene King – have been forced to shut premises because of what is being termed the “pingdemic”.
There must have been a collective sigh of relief, then, when Business Minister Paul Scully told Times Radio this morning that “it’s up to individuals and employers” whether one should follow self-isolation rules after being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app. (Almost half of app users say they would be unlikely to isolate if they tested negative for the virus after being ‘pinged’, according to a recent survey.) But other Government officials were quick to stamp out the claim. The Guardian has more.
Number 10 said employers “should not be encouraging” workers to ignore isolation warnings, even though the app’s instructions are not legally enforceable, unlike contact from NHS Test and Trace which is a legal requirement.
The comments come amid a furious backlash from Conservative MPs over the use of the app which they claim is crippling businesses. The latest figures released by the NHS show more than half a million people were contacted and told to self-isolate between July 1st and July 7th, the highest weekly figure since the app launched.
On Monday Boris Johnson said that critical workers would be exempt, and would be allowed to use regular testing instead provided they are fully vaccinated, with full details expected later on Tuesday.
In comments likely to sow more public concern over the use of the app, Scully told Times Radio: “It’s important to understand the rules. You have to legally isolate if you are… contacted by Test and Trace, or if you’re trying to claim isolation payments.”
But he said there was a different legal basis to the app which he said was “to allow you to make informed decisions”. He added: “And I think by backing out of mandating a lot of things, we’re encouraging people to really get the data in their own hands to be able to make decisions on what’s best for them, whether they’re employer or an employee.”
Scully said people should still use the app to check into venues, which he said had saved an estimated 8,000 lives. “So it’s a really useful tool in our armoury alongside the vaccination programme, but obviously it’s up to individuals and employers,” he said.
“I know how frustrating this is, I had to self-isolate last week myself for over a week, and I know how incredibly mind-numbing it is as well as the impact on the economy and the impact on people’s mental health. So I totally get the frustration.”
A Number 10 spokesperson said: “Isolation remains 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.
“Businesses should be supporting employees to isolate, they should not be encouraging them to break isolation.”
Worth reading in full.
Stop Press: Even the official Office for National Statistics “Business impact of Covid survey” email has been struck off “due to self-isolating because of Covid”, according to the Spectator.