NHS app sensitivity could be changed 'within weeks'

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pingdemic: hospitality venues across the country have had to close as staff have been instructed to self isolate for up to ten days (image: Olivier Le Moal / Getty)
Pingdemic: hospitality venues across the country have had to close as staff have been instructed to self isolate for up to ten days (image: Olivier Le Moal / Getty)

Related tags: coronavirus, Nhs, Health and safety, Legislation, ukhospitality

The NHS app could be adapted so it is less sensitive amid large numbers of hospitality staff being forced to self-isolate, a minister has suggested.

Venues have had to curtail opening hours and even close when staff members have been instructed to self isolate for up to ten days. 

Individuals must self isolate if they develop Covid symptoms, test positive for the virus or come into close contact with someone who tests positive.

UKHospitality has warned up to one third of the sector’s workforce could be off work thanks to alerts from the app or NHS contact-tracers.

Housing and communities minister Robert Jenrick was asked if the app needed to be finetuned on radio station LBC​ this morning (15 July). 

"Yes, I think we have accepted that," he said. "It is important that we have the app, that we take it seriously, that when we do get those messages we act accordingly - but we are going to give further thought to how we can ensure that it is a proportionate response.”

“The Government is going to be setting out its plans in the coming weeks so I'm not going to preempt those." 

Proportionate approach

“We have indicated that for those who have been double vaccinated there are opportunities to take a more proportionate approach," Jenrick continued.

Some 84% of the population has had at least one vaccine while two thirds of people have had two vaccines, Jenrick added, meaning the time for changes was “rapidly approaching.”

There have been reports ministers are looking at changing the app so that individuals who only spend a short period of time in close proximity to a Covid positive case are not alerted. 

The law on isolation will already change on 16 August so that double vaccinated people do not have to isolate for the full period​ in the event of a negative PCR test result. 

However, hospitality bosses have said this does not go far enough to help the industry, which is made up of young workers who may not receive their second jab until September.

Bosses are calling for a test to release scheme that would see workers able to return to work within a few days of being identified as close contacts of a Covid positive case.

Move quicker

A negative PCR test after a few days of self-isolation could enable workers to stop self-isolating, similar to the system for international travel from some countries, employers have said.

However, there are concerns that individuals may be infected but not test positive until much later, meaning that Covid contacts are falsely reassured by negative tests when they could still be infectious.

UKHospitality boss Kate Nicholls urged the Government to "move quicker" on the issue or risk "the summer being cancelled".

She added: “Introducing a test-to-release system for fully vaccinated people from the middle of next month not only fails to recognise the carnage the current system is causing hospitality and the wider economy, but also significantly discriminates against a huge proportion of our workforce."

Around 60% of hospitality staff are aged between 15-34 and the vast majority will not have had the opportunity to receive both jabs by the 16 August, Nicholls added.

Related topics: Health & safety

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