Covid: NHS tracing app sensitivity ‘under review’ - meaning less users could be asked to self isolate

The UK Health Security Agency told MPs that it is ‘entirely possible to tune the app’ to readjust the sensitivity levels

The England and Wales NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app could be changed to be made less sensitive in order to cut down the number of those asked to self isolate.

The app works by alerting users who have been near other app users who have then tested positive for coronavirus, and instructing those people to self isolate for a full 10 days.

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The app was launched in England and Wales in September 2020 (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The app was launched in England and Wales in September 2020 (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

At a glance: 5 key points

- The NHS Covid-19 app could be tweaked to make it less sensitive to prevent people being “pinged” unnecessarily, following concerns that users are deleting the app to avoid notifications

- On Thursday (8 July), the UK Health Security Agency told he Public Accounts Committee that work is being undertaken to “tune” the app to address the fact that more people have now been vaccinated

- Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that Health Secretary Sajid Javid is “aware” of the concerns raised about the app, and suggested that he is investigating possible solutions

- The number of exposure alerts sent to users of the app in England increased by more than 60 per cent in a week, according to the latest contact tracing figures

- As of 9am on Thursday, there had been a further 32,551 lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK

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What’s been said

Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency, told MPs: “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”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the “sensitivity” of the NHS Covid app is being kept under constant review.

Shapps said it was important that it remained a “useful tool” in the fight against the disease amid concerns about the increasing numbers of people being “pinged” as restrictions are eased.

Speaking to Sky News, Shapps said: “As the overall nationwide levels for things like the amount of social distancing and other rules are looked at so we will look at the way that app performs with regard to the new standards being in place.

“We keep a very close eye on those things. I did speak to the Health Secretary [Sajid Javid] about it yesterday. He is very aware of this and we will keep it under constant review because we want the app to be a useful tool in our armoury.

“We will keep the sensitivity of it under review with the new guidelines that come in on July 19.”

Background

The NHS Covid-19 tracing app was launched in England and Wales in September last year, in a bid to tackle the spread of the virus.

The current rules state that if you’ve received an alert that you’ve been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19, you are required to self isolate for a full 10 days following the contact.

The NHS says “it can take up to 10 days for symptoms to appear”. People in your household will not need to also isolate unless you develop symptoms.

If you do not develop symptoms after 10 days, you can stop isolating and you will not need a coronavirus test.

If you do develop symptoms, people in your household will need to isolate as well, and get a PCR test.

You can order a free PCR test from the Government website.

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