NHS App

The ‘Pingdemic’ Is Dead, Long Live the ‘Pingdemic’!

The end of self-isolation rules for double jabbed Brits who are ‘pinged’ or contacted by NHS Test and Trace after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid is “dangerous” and “totally illogical” (but not illogical in the way that Toby pointed out earlier), says the Deputy General Secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union. He is one of the sizable number of industry leaders who have called for staff to be supported if they choose to stay at home after being ‘pinged’, despite concerns over staff shortages caused by the ‘pingdemic‘ (which is said to have finished). The Telegraph has the story.

Railway workers and doctors have been backed to stay at home if they come into contact with a Covid case despite new rules allowing double jabbed people to return to their jobs.

Meanwhile, industry leaders called for further clarity on whether staff alerted by NHS Test and Trace could be compelled to come back to the workplace. …

Steve Hedley, the Deputy General Secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union, criticised the change [to self-isolation rules] as “dangerous” and “totally illogical” and backed staff who refused to come back to the workplace.

“This is a dangerous approach by the Government because the evidence shows that the link between the virus and deaths has been weakened, but it hasn’t been broken,” Mr Hedley said.

He added: “Many workers will be concerned at spreading or catching Covid if people pinged by the app are allowed to come back to their jobs straight away. If they choose to stay at home, we would support them. No one should be forced to go back to work.

“The railway companies have assured us that it will still be voluntary for people to come back to work. It must stay that way.”

The British Medical Association added that healthcare workers who want to self-isolate “should not be penalised in any way for doing so”.

Meanwhile, business leaders welcomed the relaxed rules but called for clarity on whether staff could be compelled to return to work if they come into contact with a Covid case.

Kate Nicholls, the Chief Executive of U.K. Hospitality, said guidance should be “black and white” rather than leaving the choice up to individual employers.

“Employers want to know with more certainty what they should do in those circumstances,” she said. …

Ms Nicholls also called for a further relaxation of the rules to allow younger people who have not yet had both jabs to be spared from automatic self-isolation.

Worth reading in full.

Fully Vaccinated Brits Won’t Have to Self-Isolate After Coming Into Contact With a Covid ‘Case’ From Monday

The legal requirement for fully vaccinated Britons to self-isolate for 10 days after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid will be replaced with advice to take tests from Monday. If a test comes back positive, isolation rules must still be followed. Unsurprisingly, there will not yet be any changes to the rules for those who haven’t been ‘jabbed’. The Guardian has more.

Ministers have confirmed that the legal requirement to isolate will be replaced with non-binding advice to take a test for the double-jabbed, as well as those 18 and under. And those who do come into contact with the infected will not be told to isolate while waiting for their results. For people who do test positive, isolation will continue.

The Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said on Wednesday night that the Government was able to go ahead with the decision to exempt the fully vaccinated from isolation rules on August 16th, as planned, because “getting two doses of a vaccine has tipped the odds in our favour and allowed us to safely reclaim our lost freedoms”.

Although Boris Johnson was under pressure from business to bring forward the August 16th date, because of disruption caused by the ‘pingdemic’, he said last month that timetable was “nailed on” and there was no likelihood of it being moved.

But when the details were announced on Wednesday night, they were less restrictive than they might have been. The fully vaccinated and under-18s will only be advised to get a PCR test if they are a close contact of a positive case, not required to, and they will not be expected to isolate while they await the results of the test. …

According to the official data, there have been more than 9 million calls to people since the pandemic began from the English Test and Trace service telling them that they must isolate. Until now, this has been a legal requirement.

There have also been more than 5 million alerts sent by the Covid app in England telling people they should isolate for the same reason, although these ‘pings’ have not been legally binding for the recipients.

Worth reading in full.

Number of NHS App ‘Pings’ Falls by 43% In a Week but Remains Close to 400,000

The number of people told to self-isolate in one week by the NHS Covid app has finally fallen after previously rising for three weeks in a row, but the total number of ‘pings’ sent out remains high after businesses leaders said recent changes to the app came “too little, too late“. The Guardian has the story.

A total of 395,971 alerts were sent in the week to July 28th telling people in England and Wales they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus – down from 690,129 the week before.

Though reports have suggested that use of the app is decreasing, the large fall in alerts has been matched by a similar decline in the number of recorded cases over the same period.

A total of 189,232 people tested positive for Covid in England at least once in the week to July 28th, down 39% on the previous week, according to the latest test and trace figures.

The number of check-ins to venues using the app also dropped. There were 2.4 million check-ins in the week to July 28th in England and Wales – down 65% on the previous week.

A major incentive for having it downloaded was removed following the easing of coronavirus restrictions in England from July 19th onwards, when it ceased to be compulsory to check into venues, which most people did by scanning a QR code with the app.

The number of app downloads has shrunk dramatically since the rule change, while many others will have deleted it amid reports of a ‘pingdemic’ of workers across the country being forced to isolate after receiving alerts, affecting supply chains and the economy. …

Karan Bilimoria, the Confederation of British Industry President, said the fall in alerts was welcome but said businesses were still struggling with self-isolating employees.

“It’s good to see a steep fall in those having to self-isolate, but this doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. The latest numbers remain too high and illustrate the frustration facing firms as existing staff shortages are exacerbated by unnecessary self-isolation. Amending the app is a welcome recognition of the problem but won’t provide the solution,” Lord Bilimoria said.

Worth reading in full.

Change to NHS Covid App “Too Little, Too Late”, Say Business Leaders

Fewer people will be told to self-isolate in the coming weeks following an update to the NHS Covid app which means only those who have come into contact with an asymptomatic case in the past 48 hours (rather than the past five days) will be ‘pinged’. But this is only likely to prevent up to one fifth of ‘pings’, according to reports, highlighting that the ‘pingdemic‘ is far from over.

The response to the update from business leaders has been cold. The main impression seems to be that the change is “too little, too late”. A spokesman for the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) think tank says the app – even in its new form – is “designed for a world with no treatments and no vaccines” and so has no place in Britain. MailOnline has more.

U.K. Hospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said more had to be done, with the fact that fully vaccinated staff still having to self-isolate being a “significant barrier to venues operating viably and moving towards recovery”.

And the ASI said the Government should now consider handing impacted firms a rebate for the “lost business the NHS app has taken out of our productive and otherwise healthy economy”.

Ms Nicholls said: “This intervention from Government is absolutely necessary to prevent a complete loss of summer trading for the hospitality sector following prolonged periods of severely disrupted trading.

“This will help to alleviate some of the pressure currently being experienced by hard-hit businesses, but is not a silver bullet.” …

She added that the industry body’s research found more than 250,000 hospitality workers are being affected by ‘pings’ at any given point by the app.

And a spokesman for the ASI said: “This is exceptionally welcome for firms struggling with employees off – not because they’ve got Covid but because of an app designed for a world with no treatments and no vaccines.

“It comes too little and too late though for so many companies that have lost revenue and taken on debt from reduced service provision and custom due to the app.” …

Although the change to the app is a major move to address the pingdemic, it will apply only in cases where Covid-carriers do not have symptoms – about one third of total infections.

This means hundreds of thousands are still likely to be pinged each week and the self-isolation carnage will continue to wreak havoc until the rules are fully relaxed later this month [but only for those who are fully vaccinated].

Currently when people are pinged by the app they are advised – but not legally obliged – to self-isolate for 10 days.

Trade union Unite said the change in guidance does not go far enough, and repeated its call for the automotive and steel sectors to be exempt from self-isolation rules. …

The Government said fewer people will now be pinged overall but the total number of “high-risk contacts being advised to self-isolate” will stay the same.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: “It’s time to embrace Britain’s jab success by scrapping Covid ‘ping’ app NOW,” says the Sun in its main leader today.

One in 10 Pubs and Restaurants Forced to Close Last Month Due to ‘Pingdemic’

Hospitality venues were relying on the easing of restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’ to make up for their lockdown losses, but they’ve found that one set of restrictions has simply been replaced by another. The Chief Executive of U.K. Hospitality reports that one in 10 pubs and restaurants have been forced to close over the past month because of staff shortages caused by the ‘pingdemic‘. One in five venues has also had to “significantly adjust their offer or services” to cope with the continued disruption to business. MailOnline has the story.

The ‘pingdemic’ has seen record numbers of people being alerted by the NHS Covid app to self-isolate in recent weeks, including 700,000 for the week to July 21st.

The Government rolled out exemptions for workers it deems to be employed in critical industries, such as those in the food sector, transport and waste collection.

Daily negative test results can enable such workers who have been alerted by the app or called by NHS Test and Trace as Covid contacts to continue working.

Kate Nicholls [of U.K. Hospitality] told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In the last month one in 10 of our businesses have had to close their sites and more importantly one in five have had to significantly adjust their offer or services in order to cope with the pandemic.”

She added: “The ‘pingdemic’ has hit at the same time as the reopening, they haven’t had time to rebuild cash reserves and so they are in quite a fragile state and the hit to revenues as a result of the pingdemic is running at about 15 to 20% of revenues for those businesses that are affected.

“So it is a significant suppression just at the point in time when these businesses needed to start recovering from about 16 months worth of closure and restrictions.” …

It comes as desperate councils are offering lorry drivers bonuses of £3,000 in a bid to clear the backlog of bin collections caused by the ‘pingdemic’.

Rubbish has piled up in many areas in recent weeks – with up to 40% of some local authority workforces having to isolate.

Some residents have been told to cut down on the amount of food that they throw out as piles of uncollected waste grow. 

Others have been asked not to put their bins out unless they are full, with collection services in dozens of areas running significantly behind schedule.

Separately, a new report has warned more than 1.1 million jobs remain unfilled as the pingdemic crisis worsens the shortage of workers.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Health Secretary has finally agreed to make the NHS Covid-tracking app less sensitive. Until now, it pinged people who’d been in contact with an infected person at any point during a five-day period before they tested positive; henceforth, that will be reduced to two days. MailOnline has the story.

Record 689,313 ‘Pings’ Sent Out by NHS Covid App in One Week

The number of people ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app has reached a record high for the third week in a row. In the week up to July 21st, 689,313 ‘pings’ were sent out by the app – over 70,000 more than were sent the week before. It remains to be seen whether the number of ‘pings’ recorded in the week up to July 28th, which saw reported ‘cases’ fall every day but one, will be lower than in previous weeks. Sky News has more.

The alerts tell people they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid.

The new number was recorded in the week up to July 21st and is an 11.4% increase on the week before. …

Businesses in all sectors have complained that they are struggling to maintain operations when so many staff have been told to stay at home to break the transmission.

The Government has said that some essential workers can now use daily testing to avoid having to isolate.

The car industry has joined calls for the Government to bring forward the date for exempting fully-vaccinated adults from self-isolation rules.

It comes after a slump in production blamed on the so-called ‘pingdemic’.

Stock levels in relation to expected sales across the distribution sector reached a new record low this month, according to a key business survey.

Retailers are fretting over supplies and staffing as a result of the number of people being pinged.

Worth reading in full.

Tottenham Hotspur to Trial Vaccine Passports Ahead of New Premier League Season

Tottenham Hotspur has become the first Premier League football club to announce they will be trialling the use of vaccine passports ahead of the new season. Supporters attending upcoming matches will be instructed to show Covid passes, but unlike the vaccine passport scheme the Government hopes to introduce later this year, proof of a negative test will be sufficient. As such, these ‘trials’ won’t be much different from the 10 trial events already carried out by the Government earlier this year which identified only 28 positive Covid test results among 58,000 participants.

The decision by Spurs comes amid reports that Premier League fans, players and staff could all need to have received two doses of a Covid vaccine for matches to go ahead later this year. MailOnline has more.

Spurs have told supporters that all adults will have to show a pass before entering the stadium ahead of their men’s and women’s teams playing Arsenal on Sunday August 8th.

The Covid pass – generated by the NHS app – confirms a person has had two doses of vaccine, has obtained a negative test for the virus or has natural immunity stemming from a previous infection.

The move comes after Government issued advice for event organisers encouraging them to use Covid passports where large crowds are in attendance, including at sports events.

However, while the Premier League is working on plans, it does not expect all clubs to have a Covid certification scheme in place by the first round of matches starting on August 13th and Spurs are the first to unveil its arrangements.

A number of top flight clubs spoken to by Sportsmail have no plans to use Covid certification in pre-season friendlies despite large attendances, and they are still awaiting advice on what is expected when the league matches begin. …

The Premier League is supportive of establishing plans for some form of passport if it enables clubs to maintain full capacity, even if Covid surges in the autumn and winter.

Spurs said their trial was part of preparations for October.

“This follows recent Government announcements and the necessity for the Club to begin preparations for the potential of full vaccination against Covid being a condition of entry to large events from October 1st.”

“It also further ensures the safety and comfort of our supporters, players and staff as we begin hosting capacity crowds for the first time since March, 2020,” the club added.

Worth reading in full.

End of Self-Isolation Rules for Fully Vaccinated Could Be Delayed Beyond August 16th

Earlier this month, the Government announced it would treat vaccinated and unvaccinated Brits differently when it came to self-isolation rules from August 16th, allowing those who have had two doses of a Covid vaccine to go about their lives as normal after being ‘pinged’. The Policing Minister has, however, confused things by suggesting that this change could be delayed and we will have to “wait and see” what the scientists say.

In the meantime, some ‘key workers’ have been made exempt from self-isolation rules but must still quarantine if ‘pinged’ when they are not on shift. The Sun has more.

Kit Malthouse said Number 10 will have to remain “agile” even after new infections dropped for the sixth day in a row.

He said a final decision on whether to end quarantine for the double-jabbed will be taken on the advice of scientists.

Number 10 has repeatedly insisted that the restrictions will be scrapped on August 16th come what may. …

Mr Malthouse said the school holidays are acting as a “natural firebreak” against the further spread of the virus.

And he also cited the fact that people are staycationing this year rather than travelling abroad for helping keep cases down.

He said: “It’s quite an interesting cocktail of effects going on. Six days of drop is great but we have to be very careful.

“We have to wait until mid-August, see what’s happening on the numbers, hope they continue downwards, and then take the next step.

“Let’s all hope the numbers go well. People will be assessing in the week before what the numbers look like and then taking a decision nearer the time.”

Mr Malthouse said ministers will have to “wait and see” what impact the ‘Freedom Day’ lifting of restrictions has on cases. …

“There are wiser heads than mine looking at all the data, both in this country and across the world, to assess how we need to move in the future.

“And if we have to be agile, then we’ll have to do that in two or three weeks’ time.

“But for the moment looking good so far, fingers crossed for August.” …

Under the PM’s plans, from August 16th all double-jabbed Brits will be able to replace mandatory self-isolation with testing. …

But the communication around it has been a shambles, with ministers and Number 10 contradicting each other on whether the date could be pushed back.

Worth reading in full.

Key Workers Must Still Self-Isolate When Not Working

A small list of key workers have been made exempt from self-isolation rules amid reports of food shortages due to the “pingdemic“. Staff in the hospitality and retail sectors have, however, been told they must still stay at home if they are ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app, despite their industries taking a battering from strict quarantine rules. To make matters even more confusing, the Government has announced that exempt key workers do have to self-isolate when they are not on shift! The Times has the story.

Ministers announced last night that emergency measures to protect food supplies will see thousands of workers in critical areas such as supermarket depots and food manufacturing avoid the need to self-isolate if ‘pinged’ or contacted by a Test and Trace official. …

The same exemptions were made for frontline NHS and social care staff earlier this week, with isolation rules being replaced by regular testing.

However, the Government has confirmed that outside work, staff will remain under a duty to self-isolate and should not otherwise leave their homes.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “Participants in daily Covid testing will be exempt from self-isolation to undertake work or essential activities only.”

The “essential activities” exemption is slightly wider than normal self-isolation rules, with workers able to exercise in an outdoor space, buy food if no one else can do it for them, and use public transport “for essential trips”.

[Environment Secretary George] Eustice has suggested that the Government could delay the planned August 16th lifting of all self-isolation rules for double-vaccinated people, saying the Government had only announced the date to give “some kind of indication” of when rules might change. He said that the date could still move “in either direction”.

Tory backbench MPs have been pushing to bring the ending of restrictions forward to avoid further disruption to the economy.

Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, said the Government risked “losing social consent” for isolation if it did not immediately bring forward the relaxation of quarantine rules for the fully vaccinated.

This was echoed by Greg Clark, the former Business Secretary who is Chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

The Conservative MP told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “We know that on August 16th a new system will come in, in which you can take a test if you’re named as a contact and only isolate if you’re positive – I don’t see why we can’t begin that now on July 23th rather than wait.” …

The new exemption rules have already caused confusion, with businesses saying they have not been given enough detail of who might be eligible for exemptions or how.

Nick Allen, Chief Executive of the British Meat Processing Association, said: “There needs to be recognition this is a 24/7 supply chain, and you can’t wait to Monday to understand who’s going to be included for this and how it’s going to work – I’ve been inundated with questions from members about how it’s going to work that I just can’t answer at the moment.”

The Local Government Association (LGA) has also urged ministers to clarify who may qualify for exemption from self-isolation. …

Bin collections appeared to be the worst affected, but road repairs, leisure facilities and park maintenance could also be hit, the LGA said.

Worth reading in full.

Domestic Holiday Industry Hit by Staff Shortages at Start of Crucial Season

After missing out on so many months of business, the domestic holiday industry had pinned its hopes on this crucial summer season to make up for lost time. But while “Freedom Day” has been reached and lockdown has officially ended, hotels, theatres, cafes and other related businesses are still being forced to close because of staff shortages caused by the “pingdemic“.

Holiday officials in Devon say “we’ve got a crisis” – one that has come at a crucial time and, as such, is having a “devastating impact”. Despite this, the Government has ruled out exempting staff in the hospitality and retail sectors from self-isolation rules. Sky News has more.

As the school holidays begin, [Devon] is predicting a record number of visitors – up 20% on a normal year.

But there are concerns about whether the industry can deliver what tourists need – with many bookings and reservations being cancelled.

“We’ve got a crisis. It’s a crisis that’s come at a critical summer for us. It is resulting in an extreme shortage of staff at very short notice. It’s having a devastating impact which is presenting an urgent situation that is forcing many businesses to actually close in high season,” says Carolyn Custerson, the Chief Executive of English Riviera Bid Ltd which represents the tourism industry in Torbay. …

“This was going to be the summer of a golden opportunity, not just for the English Riviera but the whole of the U.K. because people are taking staycations because they can’t holiday abroad.

“If we don’t sort out what is happening by introducing a test and release process which is what I have been lobbying for, then we will see more and more closures that will impact visitor expectation and their desire to return and that is what I’m most concerned about.” …

More than a dozen businesses have had to close in the last week due to staff shortages.

The WeSup bar and café on Torquay harbour has been forced to shut its kitchen.

“Our customers are so confused,” says owner Sean White.

“The Government and media say we’re coming out of lockdown, hurrah! But actually, they come to a premise like ours and it feels worse than ever – we’ve got no opportunity to supply the product we are supposed to sell.” …

At Babbacombe Theatre, the summer show is ready with a cast of dancers, singers and comedians on the payroll.

But they’ve had to cancel all performances this week as the whole cast is having to isolate. …

Other tourist attractions are at risk of closing.

Kents Cavern – a network of prehistoric caves underneath Torquay – has had three staff ‘pinged’ in the last week.

Owner Nick Powe told Sky News any plans for relaxation in the isolation rules in August will be too late. …

While tens of thousands of tourists are arriving and enjoying the riviera, businesses are concerned that a much-needed summer recovery could be hampered yet again by rising cases and the very technology [that is said to be] protecting us.

Worth reading in full.