Pingdemic

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.

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.

Sweden Avoided a ‘Pingdemic’. Why Couldn’t We?

A reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, has sent the following post, comparing Britain’s enthusiastic embrace of a contact-tracing app with Sweden’s more considered approach.

As the U.K.’s ‘pingdemic’ spreads ever wider, wreaking havoc on hospitals, care homes, schools, supermarkets, and the economy, one person at least might afford himself a wry smile.

In the early months of the pandemic, many Swedish epidemiologists, virologists and other medical specialists implored their Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Health Minister Lena Hallengren to build a contact-tracing app. Tech companies fell over themselves to claim they had the necessary expertise to do just that. Development actually got underway, but once state epidemiologist Dr Anders Tegnell and his team had evaluated the viability of such an app and come to the view it would cause excessive fear and large-scale disruption, Löfven was talked out of it and all work ceased.

In an interview on Swedish Television in May of last year, Tegnell said he didn’t think the idea of an app had been “properly thought through'” (He could have said the same of a great deal else of U.K. pandemic decision-making and implementation). He foresaw large numbers of ‘pings’ being generated and vast resources being expended on staffing and testing. Many people would be worried for no good reason and hospitals and care homes would come under more pressure as staff would have to self-isolate. He also questioned whether a distance as great as two metres for a period as short as 15 minutes were appropriate parameters.

Tellingly, when asked: “Wouldn’t it be worthwhile at least in controlling the spread of infections?”, he replied: “Few of the contacts (of a person with a positive test result) would be infected. For every person ill with Covid, I would reckon about 30 healthy people would be urged to self-isolate unnecessarily.”

Is there any evidence that the U.K. Government’s much-vaunted contact-tracing NHS COVID-19 App, run by NHS Test and Trace, has nevertheless been successful? According to politicians of all parties and medics of many disciplines, the answer is a resounding no.

Referring to the current £37 billion projected cost of Dido Harding’s test and trace operation, Lord Macpherson, who was Permanent Secretary at the Treasury from 2005 to 2016 and worked on 33 Budgets and 20 Spending Reviews, went so far as to say: “This wins the prize for the most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time.”

To paraphrase Tegnell’s famous commentary on Sweden rejecting a large-scale lockdown of society: “It was as if the world had gone mad about contact-tracing apps, and everything we needed to consider was forgotten. The cases became too many and the political pressure got too strong. And then Sweden stood there rather alone.”

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.

Record 618,903 People in England and Wales ‘Pinged’ Last Week

Almost 620,000 people in England and Wales were told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app in just one week, up from roughly 520,000 the week before. This is a grim record that highlights the extent of the damage being caused by the so-called “pingdemic“, and will likely be beaten again. Sky News has the story.

The alerts were sent to users of the app in the week to July 14th, telling them they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus and to self-isolate.

Of those, 607,486 alerts were sent to people in England – up 16.8% on the 520,194 recorded for England in the previous week.

A further approximately 428,000 people were contacted by NHS Test and Trace contact tracers in England and told to self-isolate in the week to July 14th, the latest figures show – about 90% of the 475,465 people identified as close contacts of Covid cases.

This came after 259,265 people tested positive for Covid in England at least one in the same period, up 33% on the previous week.

It is the first set of figures since the majority of restrictions were lifted in England last Monday. …

And on Tuesday, Downing Street said it was “crucial” that people isolate when they are pinged by the NHS Covid app.

Speaking to Kay Burley on Thursday, Kwasi Kwarteng said the Government was “very concerned” about the numbers of people being pinged by the NHS app.

Mr Kwarteng said ministers were “monitoring” the situation and would be setting out a list of exempt critical workers “very soon”, with the expectation that it will be published on Thursday.

The consequences of what has been dubbed the recent “pingdemic” has been reports of empty shelves in some supermarkets, businesses left without staff and delays in supplies reaching consumers.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The latest ONS data on the percentage of the adult population with antibodies against Covid suggests self-isolating is unnecessary. More than nine in 10 U.K. adults would test positive for antibodies, the figures show.

Police Response Times “Under Strain” Because of Staff Shortages Caused by “Pingdemic”

The “pingdemic” isn’t just damaging business and social life, but also the ability of the police to deal with crime. The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) says that response times are “under strain” due to staff shortages caused by self-isolation rules. 7.3% of police officers and staff are currently absent from work, yet the Government appears to be in no hurry to come up with a solution. Sky News has the story.

The NPCC said that in some forces, functions such as control room operations are being hit by high numbers of absent staff, impacting their ability to respond quickly to calls.

Earlier, one Police and Crime Commissioner warned the public that call response times will rise due to the large amount [number] of people being asked to self-isolate after coming into contact with a positive coronavirus case.

Steve Turner of Cleveland Police said the force has had to cancel rest days and annual leave for some officers, as well as bringing in others from different shifts, to fill gaps caused by staff having to quarantine after being close to someone with Covid.

It comes as a leading epidemiologist, who runs the ZOE Covid symptom study, claimed the NHS Covid app is no longer useful.

Professor Tim Spector told Sky News: “I think employers should tell their staff if they feel unwell, they have cold-like symptoms, then they stay away but I don’t think the app saying that someone might have passed them by in a supermarket is actually that useful anymore in the current state of the pandemic.”

He added: “It doesn’t seem to be appropriate at the moment… it seems to be overkill.” …

The Government has dismissed calls to change the sensitivity of the app, but has announced exemptions for a “small number” of fully vaccinated critical workers who are identified as close contacts of coronavirus cases.

Mr Turner called on the Government to test healthy emergency workers daily so they will not automatically be taken off frontline duties.

He told the BBC: “We have got to provide a service. We suddenly find ourselves cancelling rest days and cancelling leave and bringing officers in from other shifts to cover where we have got the gaps.

“However, our call times will go up, we will miss some calls we would normally pick up because we have less resilience in the call centre and all of these things will have a knock-on effect for the Cleveland public.” …

An NPCC spokesman said: “Nationally, the police officer and staff absence rate is 7.3%. However, in some forces some functions, such as control rooms, are experiencing higher levels of absence.

“Absence rates in control rooms affect a police force’s ability to respond promptly to calls from the public, in particular emergency calls.

“Police forces affected are guiding the public on how to contact the police while they are under strain. We are engaging with Government about how to best resolve this issue.”

Worth reading in full.

Why is the Government Claiming “One in Three” Test and Trace Contacts Become Infected When its Own Data Shows That to Be False?

In a desperate effort to encourage people to self-isolate when pinged by the NHS Covid app or contacted by Test and Trace – even cancelling their wedding day if necessary – the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said yesterday that: “One in three people contacted either by Test and Trace or the app go on to develop coronavirus.”

There’s just one problem with this latest nugget of fear-based nudgery: it’s not true.

Test and Trace get in touch with people’s contacts and ask them to self-isolate. The proportion of those contacts who become infected is known as the secondary attack rate (SAR). Public Health England publishes the data on this SAR from Test and Trace data in its Technical Briefings, so we know what it is. The most recent estimate for the SAR of the Delta variant (in June) is that 10.3% of an infected person’s household contacts become infected (the SAR for non-household contacts is considerably lower).

How, then, can it be true that one in three – 33% – of people contacted by Test and Trace or the app go on to develop coronavirus? That’s claiming the SAR of SARS-CoV-2 is around 33%, but the Government’s own published data says it’s more like 10%.

Can the Government back up its claims, and explain why it is stating that the SAR of Covid is more than three times the figure published in its own data?

Iceland Forced to Hire Thousands More Staff Because of “Pingdemic” Shortage

Supermarket chain Iceland is having to recruit 2,000 backup staff to stave off disruption caused by the “pingdemic” after the Government told businesses they “should not be encouraging [staff] to break isolation”. Iceland has been forced to reduce opening hours and to shut some stores due to staff being told to stay at home by the NHS Covid app. The Guardian has the story.

Richard Walker, the Head of Iceland, said that a handful of outlets had been forced to close after more than 1,000 workers – just more than three per cent of the group’s total – had been asked to self-isolate after being ‘pinged’ by the app.

However, he said the company had decided to take on more staff as the problems were patchy – with some stores experiencing much higher vacancy rates than others – while the number of people having to isolate was “growing about 50% week on week, and that was really alarming”.

Grocery chain Iceland is aiming to recruit 2,000 spare staff to help cover absences caused by the self-isolation “pingdemic”, as retailers warned it was becoming difficult to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked.

Walker called on the Government to adjust the app or self-isolation rules urgently, ahead of planned changes on August 16th. “Supermarkets need to focus on feeding the nation not writing to Government departments,” he said. He said that about 96% of those alerted by the NHS app who worked for Iceland did not test positive for Covid.

Andrew Opie, Director of Food at the British Retail Consortium trade body, said staff shortages could have an impact on opening hours and shelf stacking. 

“The ongoing ‘pingdemic’ is putting increasing pressure on retailers’ ability to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked. Government needs to act fast,” said Opie. “Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double vaccinated or can show a negative Covid test, to ensure there is no disruption to the public’s ability to get food and other goods.”

The warning came as the British Meat Processors’ Association (BMPA) said some plants had already been hit by staff shortages of up to 16% even without the impact of the pingdemic. 

“On top of the underlying worker shortage, we’re also hearing from some members that between 5% and 10% of their workforce have been ‘pinged’ by the [health service] app and asked to self-isolate,” said the Chief Executive of BMPA, Nick Allen.

The shortage of workers affected the meat products that require more labour to produce, he said, meaning those lines would be the first to be cut.

Worth reading in full.