Self-Isolation

Tens of Thousands of Brits Won’t Tell NHS Test and Trace Who They’ve Come Into Contact With

Almost a quarter of Brits contacted by Test and Trace in the week up to July 21st refused to disclose their recent close contacts, as reports suggest that people are beginning to revolt against the ‘pingdemic’. MailOnline has the story.

The controversial contact tracing system made 250,000 calls in the seven-day spell ending July 21st, making it the busiest week since the darkest period of the second wave in January.

But nearly a quarter of infected people who were contacted didn’t cooperate, in a signal that people may now be trying to protect family, friends and colleagues from having to self-isolate.

The rate of Covid-infected people who’ve avoided naming close contacts has risen consistently since the third wave started to gather steam in June, from 14.1% to 23.1%.

Government data yesterday underlined just how bad the ‘pingdemic’ has become, with a record 1.5 million quarantine instructions sent out in the same week. 

Millions of workers have been unable to do their jobs because they’ve been told to isolate, leaving supermarket shelves empty, pubs and restaurants shut, and trains cancelled across the country. …

The £37 billion Test and Trace programme – set-up last May – has been branded a monumental waste of money by politicians for failing in its only goal to stop another lockdown.

Since it was set up 14 months ago, England has faced two more national lockdowns and two Covid waves. …

If NHS Test and Trace contact tracers are unable to reach infected people, their details are passed on to local authorities to follow-up.

Of the 251,190 people asked to provide close contacts in the most recent week, just 193,000 provided the names and numbers of those who they may have passed the virus onto.

More than 58,000 refused to do so.

Worth reading in full.

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.

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.

Only 1.6% of Schoolchildren Forced to Self-Isolate For 10 Days Went on to Develop Covid

A new study by a team of researchers at Oxford has found that of the one million schoolchildren sent home and forced to self-isolate for 10 days every week last term, 98.4% did not go on to develop Covid. The Telegraph has more.

Forcing hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren to self-isolate because a classmate had Covid was unnecessary as daily testing would have been as effective, an official study suggests.

The results of the study, by the University of Oxford, emerged on the last day of term for most schools, when more than one million pupils are off because of the virus and after months of disruption to education. …

The team behind the study said the results also offered reassurance for policymakers trying to end the pingdemic because they showed that the virus could be controlled in a less “destructive” way.

It came as the latest figures revealed that up to one million people a week are being asked to isolate in England and Wales, with record numbers being pinged by the NHS app.

The Oxford study found that 98.4 per cent of children who were sent home for 10 days never went on to develop Covid – a result set to anger parents and pupils forced to stay at home needlessly.

Worth reading in full.

For those that can’t get past the Telegraph‘s paywall, BBC News also has the story.

This study complements numerous other studies – such as this one in Sweden – showing that very, very few people are infected with COVID-19 in schools, whether children or staff, and that school closures were completely unnecessary. Bizarrely, the BBC quotes the lead author of the Oxford study describing his findings as “good news” since it means sending a million schoolchildren home every week just in case they have Covid can now be replaced by daily testing, with only those who test positive being sent home. But, of course, it isn’t “news” since we’ve know how pointless the quarantining of healthy schoolchildren is for at least a year. And I suspect parents of school-age children (like me) won’t regard this news as “good”, so much as confirmation of their worst fears, namely, that their children’s sacrifice over the past 16 months has been for nought.

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.

To Isolate, or Not to Isolate: That Is the Question

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.

Schools Closing Early for the Summer Break Due to Isolation Farce

Isolation rules continue to wreak havoc – though it seemed for a moment that they wouldn’t affect the lives of our leaders. Some parents are taking their children out of school ahead of the summer break so as to remove the risk of the whole family having to quarantine because of a single positive Covid test in the classroom. A number of schools have also decided to take action by closing early or by moving again to online teaching. The Guardian has the story.

“It is an absolutely grim situation and a depressing end to an academic year in which schools and colleges have been fighting to keep education running for their students despite waves of disruption caused by the pandemic,” said Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

“Schools are remaining open until the end of term where possible but we are hearing more reports of some having to close because of Covid-related cases and absence among pupils and staff.”

While many independent schools had already closed for the summer break some days ago, some state schools finished their term on July 16th, and others will continue to offer teaching for another week.

Official Government data published last week showed that 840,000 pupils were out of school self-isolating, the highest number since schools fully reopened in March. The figures reflect the continuing surge in infections across the country as well as the policy of sending home entire “bubbles” of children who have been in contact with a positive case, even though they have not tested positive themselves. These bubbles typically consist of either a single class or an entire year group.

The Government has said that from next week bubbles will no longer be required, while responsibility for contact tracing will be handed over to the NHS. However, self-isolation rules for those who are identified as close contacts of a Covid case, as well as those who are ‘pinged’ by the NHS app, will remain in place for another month for the whole population.

School leaders say they are exasperated by a lack of clear guidance from the Department for Education, which they feel shifts responsibility for determining what is best for the school and the local community on to them. Some have reported that parents are angry with approaches from schools which they believe to be inconsistent with the rules.

One headteacher at an infant school told the Observer that three-quarters of pupils and 12 staff members had been sent home over the last four weeks. Nearly a third of pupils who had only just returned to school last Monday after isolation were sent home again on Friday, with six staff members off.

He said 10% of children were currently off school for non-Covid reasons, with many of their parents phoning in to say they were worried about disruption to holiday and social plans, even though this would constitute an unauthorised absence. …

Local news reports showed that schools in Southend, Winchester, Swindon, Pembrokeshire and Salisbury have all been forced to close early and switch to online learning to prevent entire year groups from having to self-isolate and to deal with staff shortages. Meanwhile, findings from the app that surveys parents, Parent Ping, showed that on July 5th 15% were considering taking their children out of school.

Worth reading in full.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak Will Spend “Freedom Day” in Self-Isolation After Speedy U-Turn Due to Backlash Over Quarantine Exemption

When it was first suggested that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak would need to self-isolate after coming into contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who has tested positive for Covid, Downing Street reported that the pair would be exempt from the rule as part of a pilot scheme (how convenient!). They have since been forced to U-turn due to the backlash following the announcement and will spend ‘Freedom Day’ in isolation. Sky News has more.

“The Prime Minister has been contacted by NHS Test and Trace to say he is a contact of someone with Covid,” a spokesperson said.

“He was at Chequers when contacted by Test and Trace and will remain there to isolate. He will not be taking part in the testing pilot.

“He will continue to conduct meetings with ministers remotely. The Chancellor has also been contacted and will also isolate as required and will not be taking part in the pilot.”

Mr Sunak tweeted: “Whilst the test and trace pilot is fairly restrictive, allowing only essential Government business, I recognise that even the sense that the rules aren’t the same for everyone is wrong.

“To that end, I’ll be self-isolating as normal and not taking part in the pilot.” …

Mr Javid revealed on Saturday that he had tested positive for Covid – only a day after the Health Secretary reportedly met with Mr Johnson in Downing Street.

But this morning, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick appeared on Sky News to defend Downing Street’s initial announcement that the PM and chancellor would not be isolating.

He said: “I appreciate the frustration [the public] might feel listening to this.

“They, like me, or other members of the public who are pinged will have to self-isolate in the usual way.”

Having seen Mr Jenrick sent on to the morning politics programmes to defend the original decision, Sky’s Political Correspondent Rob Powell described the situation as “baffling”.

“This is a pretty speedy U-turn,” he said.

While Mr Jenrick referred to being “pinged”, the PM and chancellor were in fact contacted by NHS Test and Trace directly rather than simply being alerted by the NHS Covid app.

That means that there is a legal obligation to self-isolate for 10 days, whereas being pinged by the app is only guidance. …

Mr Jenrick encouraged people to keep the app installed and self-isolate when pinged.

Worth reading in full.