The Government has said it is crucial for people to self-isolate if they are ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid 19 app.
Its message came after Business minister Paul Scully suggested that people should not automatically self-isolate if they are ‘pinged’ by the app but should instead make an “informed decision”.
The clarification comes as business chiefs warn of crippling staff shortages because of the app. The Government has suggested key workers including manufacturing and medical workers could be exempt if they are double jabbed and provide a negative test but it is yet to define who will be included.
What is the pingdemic?
With case numbers rising sharply in England as restrictions are lifted, the country has seen what has been dubbed as a “pingdemic”, with hundreds of thousands of people told to stay at home after being deemed to have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.
Latest figures showed more than 500,000 people in England and Wales were notified by the NHS Covid app to self-isolate – so-called being “pinged” – in the week up to July 1.
What is the business impact?
Many small businesses are having to close completely, while production at big manufacturing firms have been affected. Pub chain Greene King has shut 33 pubs in the last week, and PureGym said up to 25% of staff are isolating in some areas.
In Plymouth, manufacturers are lobbying the Government for a change to the rules around self-isolation fearing production will be hit by a shortage of workers.
Car producers Nissan and Rolls-Royce have already raised concerns about low staff numbers at their plants in Sunderland.
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What are the current self-isolation rules?
NHS guidance says that people should self-isolate immediately if they have Covid-19 symptoms, test positive for the virus, live with someone with symptoms or has tested positive, or have been told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace or the NHS Covid-19 app.
People isolating should not go to school, work or public places, use public transport or taxis, go out for food or medicine, have visitors, or go out for exercise.
So anyone pinged by the app has to isolate?
It is not as simple as that.
While there is a legal duty in England for people to self-isolate if they test positive or are contacted by NHS Test and Trace, this does not extend to the app.
So people who do not isolate after testing positive or being contacted by NHS Test and Trace can face fines of up to £10,000 – this does not apply to people being pinged.
The Government has said this is because users of the official NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app are anonymous and “we cannot force them to self-isolate or identify them if they are not self-isolating”.
What have ministers said about being pinged?
Business minister Paul Scully said self-isolating after being told to by the app was a decision for individuals and employers.
Another minister in the business department, Lord Grimstone of Boscobel, stressed in a letter to one large employer that the app was only an “advisory tool” and that people were not under any “legal duty”, The Times reported.
Is this official advice?
Downing Street slapped down Mr Scully and said it was “crucial” to self-isolate when told and businesses should be supporting employees to do so.
A No 10 spokeswoman 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.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that isolation rules have already been relaxed for a “small number” of fully-vaccinated critical workers including health and care workers.
Mr Johnson also said it was necessary to keep the isolation rules largely unchanged until August 16, when a testing regime will replace the requirement for fully-vaccinated contacts to isolate.
Who may be covered by the exemptions?
Johnson has suggested an exemption would cover some in hospitals and care homes, or working in the supply of food, electricity and medicines, and transport, defence and borders.
But the Government has said there is no “blanket exemption for any sector or role” and decisions will be made largely on a case-by-case basis.
Downing Street has declined to say how many people will be granted exemptions, but it is understood the figure is not expected to reach the high tens of thousands.