NHS Covid app sends half a million alerts in a week amid staff shortage fears

15 July 2021, 16:45 | Updated: 16 July 2021, 08:11

By Will Taylor

The NHS Covid app sent half a million alerts to users in the most recent week as concerns grow about the number of people who may delete the app in the run-up to "Freedom Day".

Cases of Covid-19 are expected to rise as England removes the last of its legal restrictions implemented to prevent coronavirus spreading.

Whilst it is hoped vaccinations will stop hospitalisations and deaths rising steeply after July 19, a rise in cases will inevitably cause an increase in the number of people being told to isolate until the rules for close contacts change on August 16.

There are worries that people will turn off the Covid app or uninstall it altogether in order to avoid being told to isolate.

Solicitor general Lucy Frazer told LBC this morning: "It's frustrating for people who are just going about their daily lives. It's hugely frustrating for businesses asking their workers not to come in. I get all that.

Explaining why the government's changes to self-isolation will only come in on August 16, she said: "We have to take measures to ensure we protect people and we know that the virus doesn't have symptoms for everybody."

On reports of a girl aged 12 being visited by a riot police van to check she was in quarantine, she said: "The facts of that case look like it's disproportionate but I don't know the detail of the case and I know police are looking into it."

Read more: NHS app to be 'tuned' after 62% spike in people told to self-isolate in a week

Read more: Pub boss: People are turning off NHS app to avoid being pinged

There are also fears that businesses will see more employees being trapped at home, as it becomes more likely they will encounter an infected person.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the Government is "concerned" about the number of people off work as a result of being "pinged" by the app, with some companies already reportedly missing over 20 per cent of their staff.

He told LBC: "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 it is a proportionate response."

From August 16, double-jabbed people can avoid isolating if they come into contact with a Covid case.

They will only need to isolate if they actually test positive.

However, there is almost a month between restrictions lifting and these new rule coming into force, and the number of people being told to isolate is already at record levels.

In the seven days to 7 July, 530,126 alerts were sent out in England and Wales.

That was up 46% on the week before and is the highest total across seven days since the figures began being published in January.

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However, while fears persist that workplaces are being affected by staff shortages and people are turning off the app, there were more downloads in the seven days to July 7 – 342,483 – than in any week since the seven days to June 6.

Last week, UK Health Security Agency boss Dr Jenny Harries said: "We have a piece of work ongoing at the moment because it is entirely possible to tune the app to ensure that it is appropriate to the risk."

Meanwhile, figures show 194,005 people tested positive for Covid-19 at least once in the week to July 7, up 43% from the week before, the highest amount since January 27.

A total of 13.7% of those who tested positive were not reached – which needs to happen so their contacts can be traced and alerted.

That is the highest figure since the week to October 21, when 14.5% were not reached.

On Thursday, it was announced another 48,553 cases had been reported within 24 hours and a further 63 deaths were recorded.