Minister urges people to isolate when pinged ‘even if their wedding's the next day’

21 July 2021, 10:09

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins has urged people to self-isolate when 'pinged' even if they are getting married the following day.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari at breakfast on LBC, the Louth and Horncastle MP encouraged people to quarantine if alerted by the NHS Covid app, as they are five times more likely to contract the virus than those who are not.

Asked whether people should self-isolate if 'pinged' the night before their wedding, Ms Atkins replied: "Oh gosh, the guidance is 'please, you must stay at home'.

"That is a terribly, terribly difficult scenario."

It comes amid a surge in the so-called 'pingdemic', with hundreds of thousands of people quarantining this month alone despite it never being a legal requirement to obey the app's instructions.

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Nick Ferrari pressed the minister on why events such as the Euros, international cricket matches and the World Snooker Championship can go ahead with full or near-capacity crowds when such a rule is in place that could disrupt weddings.

Ms Atkins told LBC: "In fairness, not if you've been pinged. The person going to the football match (if pinged) the night before would also not be permitted to go."

Ministers announced on Monday that the NHS Covid app will not be tweaked to be made less sensitive, despite repeatedly insisting over the past weeks that it needs to be amended to combat the number of people being forced into self-isolation.

The government's decision came despite hospitality businesses and NHS trusts warning that they are facing staff shortages as large percentages of their workforce are told to self-isolate as case numbers rise.

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Ms Atkins added: "I totally understand the terrible impact this virus has had on us all. Indeed, in my own constituency I've had constituents contact me about funerals.

"The toll of this virus has been horrendous. This is why if we're able to isolate in the way the guidance requires, by mid-August, we plan to remove the self-isolation requirement, and that's really critical for people who are double-vaccinated."

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

Asked why the government is waiting a month until dropping the quarantine measure, the minister acknowledged the country's high infection rates and the fact that around three million 18-30-year-olds have not received a single jab.

"We've got to get jabs into arms to build up the nation's immunity so that we can take that step in mid-August to ensure the people who've been double-vaxxed don't have to self-isolate."

Recent data revealed that 520,194 people were ordered to self-isolate in the week up to 7 July. This was a 46 per cent increase on the previous week.

As people are normally required to isolate for 10 days, this means significantly more than half a million people were likely to be currently self-isolating due to the app.

One estimate said as many as 1.6m people are currently self-isolating once children and those who actually have Covid are taken into account. Another suggested the figure could even be over two million, calculated on the basis that on average three people are told to self-isolate for every positive case.

The Department for Health and Social Care could not provide an exact total for the number currently self-isolating.

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for No10 said quarantining was "crucial" to prevent the spread of coronavirus, especially after the country's unlocking on 19 July.

"Isolation remains the most important action people can take to stop the spread of the virus," she said.

"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.

"Businesses should be supporting employees to isolate, they should not be encouraging them to break isolation."

Her comments came after business minister Paul Scully told Nick Ferrari that "you legally have to isolate if you are contacted by the NHS in terms of contact tracing or if you’re claiming self-isolation payments".

However, he added that "the app is there to allow you to make informed decisions. It should be there for the employer and employee to have those sorts of conversations".

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