Thursday 8 July 2021 3:38 pm

NHS app self-isolation tracker could change if Covid cases see a summer spiral

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has hinted that the way the NHS app ‘pings’ people for self-isolation could change as Covid-19 cases are expected to rise over the summer.

Businesses have become increasingly frustrated with high staff absences due to employees being told to self-isolate.

“I’ve spoken to the Health Secretary about this and he’s aware of the frustration that people have around this,” Sunak told Sky News.
“I know most people’s concerns rest with how the app is working, and the Health Secretary is aware of that.
“The app counts for the majority of the people who need to isolate, I understand, on the numbers, and he’s looking at what the most appropriate, balanced and proportionate approach to isolation is in these circumstances.”

Ministers have been warned that millions could be ordered to self-isolate by Test and Trace, with infections expected to hit around 100,000 cases a day in the summer.

Iceland boss Richard Walker took to Twitter yesterday, cautioning the impacts of millions of self-isolation orders on businesses and workforces.

The government’s plan to ease remaining lockdown restrictions on 19 July is still in place. However, changes to self-isolation rules will not come in until 16 August.

After the August date, those who are fully vaccinated as well as under-18s will no longer be told to stay at home if they have come into contact with a Covid case but will instead be advised to take a test.

‘Carnage’ for businesses

Labour leader Keir Starmer warned yesterday that the plans to end restrictions could result in a “summer of chaos and confusion”.

Telling prime minister Boris Johnson, Starmer added that businesses fear “carnage” with the loss of staff to isolation and people having to cancel social plans – leading to even more no-show bookings for hospitality.

British Retail Consortium boss Helen Dickinson warned that the impacts of self-isolation orders on businesses in the retail sector are already emerging.

“We are already seeing a serious impact on retail operations as a result of staff having to self-isolate and this will only get worse right across the economy, as cases are already rising fast and the final restrictions are eased.

“Given the effectiveness of the current vaccine roll-out programme, the government should pull forward the 16 August date so that people who are fully vaccinated or have a negative test are not forced to needlessly quarantine when they are contacted by track and trace.”

While the Confederation for British Industry’s (CBI) policy director, John Foster, urged that changes to self-isolation orders need to happen quickly.

“Against the backdrop of worsening staff shortages and rising case numbers, there’s a real need for speed in implementing these changes, and business is keen to help.

“Boosting customer and employee confidence is the priority for supporting the economic recovery and learning to live with the virus.”

Foster also sought more clarity from government over updated rules to “boost confidence”, like “knowing whether workplace testing will continue beyond July.”

“Responsible employers can play their part too, by having good, collaborative conversations with their employees and informing customers how they are reopening safely,” he said.