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COVID-19: No plans to change sensitivity of NHS contact tracing app after half a million people pinged in a week

Written by on 17 July 2021

There are no plans to change the sensitivity of the NHS COVID-19 app to reduce the number of people being told to self-isolate.

Ministers had indicated that the contact tracing tool would be tweaked, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps telling Sky News last Friday, 9 July, it would be “tailored” to keep it aligned with new social distancing rules.

However, Sky News understands there are no current plans to change the “sensitivity of the risk threshold” – but the app will be kept under “constant review”.

The new NHS Covid-19 mobile phone application on an iPhone, after the app went live on Thursday morning. Image: The app tells people to self-isolate for upwards of 10 days depending on when they came into contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID

Business groups have expressed frustration at the increasing number of workers being pinged by the app and told to stay at home.

The British Meat Processors Association said companies may be forced to shut down production lines if more workers are forced to isolate.

Car makers Rolls-Royce and Nissan have also warned that their manufacturing plants face major disruption due to the number of people being told to self-isolate by the app.

More than half a million alerts were sent out in the week to 7 July, a 46% rise on the previous week and the highest number on record.

The prime minister has previously said he understands people’s frustrations with the app, but his spokesman said on Friday that it was “working as it is designed to do”.

But it will be kept “under review”, they added.

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PM ‘gets’ NHS app frustration

The spokesman also dismissed reports in The Daily Telegraph of the app pinging people through brick walls, saying it used “low energy Bluetooth”, thus making that situation “highly unlikely”.

Self-isolation for fully vaccinated contacts of COVID sufferers is due to end on 16 August, but there had been hopes that measures may be eased before then with daily testing replacing quarantine.

Government sources have sounded increasingly downbeat on the so-called “test to release” plan, though, with the results from pilots into strategy only due to report in the next two months.

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Sunak hint over change to ‘pinging’

The decision not to tweak the app for the time being comes after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer equated it to “taking the batteries out of the smoke alarm”.

His comments came after Chancellor Rishi Sunak hinted to Sky News last week that a tweak was in the works.

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