Check-ins on NHS Covid app plummet with 1m fewer uses during August - while infections and venue pings rise

Venues are “strongly encouraged” to ask customers to check in to help control the virus, even if no longer legally required - but the use of the feature continued to plummet across August

More than one million fewer people checked into venues using the NHS Covid app in August across England and Wales – while positive cases and venue pings soared.

Mandatory check-ins for pubs, restaurants and other venues were dropped in England on 19 July – dubbed ‘freedom day’, when many restrictive lockdown measures ended across the country.

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But the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) told NationalWorld it “strongly encouraged” venues to use the check-in function to help stop the spread of the virus – and keep the hospitality sector open.

It comes as an upcoming report for The Lancet medical journal, seen by the i newspaper, is set to warn that the NHS could be at “breaking point” by November if the Government does not reintroduce measures such as mask wearing and social distancing.

The number of NHS app check-ins rapidly declined following the lifting of restrictions, from 6.8 million in the week ending 21 July to 2.4 million the next week.

But analysis of NHS data shows the number of people using the QR code scanning feature has continued to drop sharply, just as cases started to climb.

In the week ending 1 September, just 644,502 people checked into a venue. That was down by 125,000, or 16%, on the week before, and by 1.1 million, or 64%, on the week ending 4 August.

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At the same time, the number of venues about which the app sent an alert – meaning a customer or staff member has tested positive, posing a risk to others present – rose by 50%, from 757 to 1,139.

There had been as many as 1,432 venue alerts sent in the week ending 18 August.

Decreased use but more pings means a greater concentration of risk – and fewer people being warned about that risk.

This four-week period during August was also a time of rising Covid infection across England and Wales.

Between 4 August and 1 September, the seven day average of positive cases rose by 38%, from 187,959 to 268,799.

Government guidance says that while it is no longer a legal requirement, businesses such as pubs, restaurants, bars and nightclubs in England should continue to ask customers to check-in.

Venues may also store customer details manually, without asking them to check in with the NHS app.

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In Wales, it is also no longer a specific legal requirement – but collecting customer details is given as an example of a “reasonable measure” to take. Businesses are still legally required to undertake Covid risk assessments and then implement reasonable measures to minimise the risks.

A DHSC spokesperson said the NHS app is a “key tool” in the pandemic response, and had prevented up to 2,000 Covid cases per day in July, broken chains of transmission, and saved thousands of lives.

“Venues are no longer legally required to ask customers and visitors to check in, however venues are strongly encouraged to do so to help stop the spread of the virus, protect society and support businesses to stay open,” they said.

“The more people check in, either by using the NHS app or by providing their contact details, the better protected we all are, as people can be alerted if they are at risk.”

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