Daily testing could replace self-isolation for people who come into contact with positive Covid cases, a minister said today as the government scrambles to overhaul the NHS app.
Nadhim Zahawi confirmed that the contact tracing app is being reworked amid fears that millions of healthy individuals could be doomed to house arrest as infections rise.
But he made clear the government is also seriously considering doing away with self-isolation for those who are willing to take daily lateral flow tests.
Meanwhile, statistics expert Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter has called for the rules to be brought ‘in proportion’, warning that life could be ‘massively disrupted’ by the current quarantine requirements.
The latest data show the app issued more than 350,000 alerts during the last week of June, up 60 per cent on the previous week. People are told to self-isolate even if they test negative for the coronavirus and have already had both vaccines.
The problem is expected to get worse, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid warning there could be more than 100,000 new infections every day next month.
There had been hopes that the double-jabbed would be exempted from the rule on so-called ‘Freedom Day’, but that will now not happen until August 16.
Pubs, restaurants and shops fear they may have to close because so many staff are being left stuck at home by the warnings, and NHS hospitals in Leeds and Birmingham have even had to cancel routine operations because so many staff are isolating.
People pinged by the app are not legally obliged to isolate. Ministers have been forced to appeal for Britons not simply to delete the software, amid anecdotal evidence that is happening.
Government sources said the app’s ‘sensitivity’ will be reduced to cut the numbers being asked to isolate unnecessarily.
Nadhim Zahawi confirmed that the NHS contact tracing app (pictured) is being reworked amid fears that millions of healthy individuals could be doomed to house arrest as infections rise
The latest data show the app issued more than 350,000 alerts during the last week of June, up 60 per cent on the previous week
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi insisted people will still be ‘expected’ to wear coverings in confined spaces under new guidance being issued this week
Speaking on Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News, Mr Zahawi said the Covid app ‘was developed and operationalised at a time when we didn’t have vaccines’.
He said: ‘The team are looking at how we use that app in terms of alerting people to those around them who test positive.’
He added: ‘It’s important to look at that in a new context of this massive vaccination programme and make sure that it is fit for purpose for this new world including, for example, being able to take maybe five days, as we have piloted, of lateral flow tests and upload them to the system rather than having to self-isolate.’
Sir David Spiegelhalter told the Andrew Marr show: ‘Few people told to self-isolate actually have an infection, and especially if they’re vaxxed, and so I do think it makes sense to get this in proportion to actually ‘what are the benefits of this massive disruption?”
Asked about stories of people deleting or disabling the NHS Covid app to avoid being ‘pinged’ and told to self-isolate, he said: ‘I’m not going to comment on whether I think that’s a good or bad thing to do.’
He added that if people are vaccinated and then pinged by the app it is a ‘very low percentage you’ve actually got the virus’.
Meanwhile, Mr Zahawi today tried to quell a backlash from local leaders on plans to drop mandatory masks on public transport, as a poll found 50 per cent of Britons want ‘Freedom Day’ delayed.
The vaccines minister insisted people will still be ‘expected’ to wear coverings in confined spaces under new guidance being issued this week, even though the legal compulsion will go.
But he insisted that the unlocking schedule was set to go ahead as planned. ‘We’re seeing a rise in infection rates in this country, but also in Europe and elsewhere. The difference for us is that the vaccination programme has been so successful,’ he said.
The comments came after Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham warned July 19 could turn into ‘anxiety day’, complaining that face coverings should remain a legal requirement.
Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan is still considering a bid to force passengers to keep wearing masks on trains, Tube and buses in London.
The level of nerves among the wider public was demonstrated today as research by Opinium found half would prefer the unlocking slated to happen a week tomorrow to be delayed.
Research by Opinium found half would prefer the unlocking slated to happen a week tomorrow to be delayed
Boris Johnson is due to confirm the government is dropping its law making masks mandatory from July 19
Some 31 per cent thought the timing was about right, while just 10 per cent said it should have been earlier.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid struck a harder line on masks in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph today, saying people would be irresponsible not to wear one in a crowded space.
‘If someone is not doing that, frankly, they’re just being irresponsible, they’re not playing their role as a responsible citizen,’ he said.
Asked on Sky News about the easings from July 19, Mr Zahawi said: ‘I think it is important that we remain cautious and careful and the guidelines that we will set out tomorrow will demonstrate that – including guidelines that people are expected to wear masks in indoor, enclosed spaces.’
Mr Zahawi also suggested the government is looking at a test and release scheme to replace self-isolation for those who come into contact with a positive case, amid fears that millions of healthy people will be doomed to house arrest as infections rise.
The PM is expected to give final approval for Stage 4 of the roadmap tomorrow, with almost all legal restrictions set to be lifted.
But Nicola Sturgeon has already vowed to keep masks and other curbs in Scotland for longer.
Mr Burnham told the Observer: ‘The government is simply wrong to frame everything from here as a matter of pure personal choice. It is not.
‘Many people who are vulnerable to the virus have to use public transport and do their food shopping in person.
‘That is why the wearing of face coverings in these settings should have remained mandatory.
‘I will be strongly encouraging the people of Greater Manchester to continue to wear masks on public transport out of respect for others.’
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: ‘Given Sajid Javid now considers it irresponsible to not wear masks then it would be equally irresponsible for his government to carry on with the plan to lift mask requirements while infections are heading to 100,000 a day.
‘Reopening the economy must be done in a safe and sustainable way.
‘That means continued mask wearing, support for increased ventilation standards in premises, decent sick pay, allowing people to continue working from home and ensuring all can access testing rather than introducing charges for lateral flow tests as Sajid Javid now proposes.’
Labour frontbencher Kate Green told Sky News this morning that she ‘hopes’ Mr Burnham and Mr Khan will keep mandatory masks on the transport systems in their areas.
Sadiq Khan is still considering a bid to force passengers to keep wearing masks on trains, Tube and buses in London
Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham warned July 19 could turn into ‘anxiety day’, complaining that face coverings should remain a legal requirement