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Government updates isolation criteria in Covid-19 app

NHS Covid-19 app adjusted to reduce the number of people receiving self-isolation alerts

The government is changing the NHS Covid-19 app’s “logic” to ensure fewer people are “pinged” with self-isolation notifications.

The changes, which are part of health secretary Sajid Javid’s review of the app, do not affect the sensitivity of the app or change the risk threshold.

Previously, if a person input a positive test but was asymptomatic, the app would look for people who had been in close contact with that person in the five days before the positive test.

But now, the Covid-19 app will only send notifications to the person’s close contacts from the two days before a positive test, which means fewer people will be asked to self-isolate.

The update comes after the government was accused of starting a “pingdemic” after the rising number of people notified to self-isolate by the app led to businesses having to close their doors because of the number of staff told to stay at home, as well as staff shortages across the NHS.

Javid said the government wanted to “reduce the disruption that self-isolation can cause for people and businesses, while ensuring we’re protecting those most at risk from this virus”.

He added: “This update to the app will help ensure we are striking the right balance. It’s so important that people isolate when asked to do so in order to stop the spread of the virus and protect their communities.”

From 16 August, people who have had both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine will no longer be asked to self-isolate when notified by the app. Instead, they will be asked to take a PCR test.

The government is encouraging people to continue using the app, with analysis showing that it plays a “crucial role” in breaking the chains of transmission.

Read more about the government and Covid-19

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  • More than 600,000 positive Covid-19 tests have been genomically sequenced by the government to identify genes that make people more susceptible to severe symptoms, and to monitor different variants of the virus.
  • TechUK wants datacentre operators to be allowed to run their own ‘test and release’ protocols for Covid-negative workers that have been told to self-isolate by NHS Track and Trace.

Research from a team of scientific advisers led by Christophe Fraser from Oxford University’s Pathogen Dynamics Group at the Big Data Institute found that in the first three weeks of July 2021, the app averted up to 2,000 cases of Covid-19 a day and a total of more than 50,000 cases assuming a 60% compliance rate when asked to self-isolate.

The researchers also found that the app reduced the spread of the virus by about 4.3% each week.

Jenny Harries, CEO of the UK Health Security Agency, said the app was a good example of how technology could be used “to fight the biggest challenges we face in protecting and improving out health”.

She added: “The app is the simplest, easiest and fastest way to find out whether you have been exposed to the virus, and it has saved thousands of lives over the course of this pandemic.

“I strongly encourage everyone, even those fully vaccinated, to continue using the app. It is a lifesaving tool that helps us to stay safe and to protect those closest to us as we return to a more familiar way of life.”

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