Almost half the alerts from the NHS Covid App about venues visited by someone who later tested positive were sent in the first two weeks of July, new figures reveal.
NHS figures covering to 14 July show the app has sent alerts about 3,977 venues in England and Wales since September.
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Of these, 688 were sent in the seven days to 14 July, while a whopping 1,247 were sent in the seven days before that.
That means 49% of all ‘at risk’ venue alerts to date occurred in the latest two-week period. There is no data on the number of individual people contacted by each alert but it would be many for each venue.
It comes amid mounting concern about the impact of mass self-isolation alerts – dubbed the ‘pingdemic’ – on the nation’s infrastructure and economy.
Cases of coronavirus have rocketed in the UK in recent weeks. In the seven days to 17 July – the latest period with complete data – 325,965 people tested positive for coronavirus, up from 225,266 the week before.
This has coincided with a huge increase in people being ‘pinged’ as a close contact and told to isolate by the app – 607,500 in the seven days to 14 July, up from 521,000 the week before and 356,900 the week before that.
No check out function
Alerts about at-risk venues do not instruct people to self-isolate.
Rather, the notifications alert users they have been to a venue known to have been visited by someone with Covid, and that they may be at risk and should book a test.
App users can check into venues on the app by scanning a QR code – but are not able to check out when they leave.
This means someone visiting a pub for breakfast could be alerted if someone who visited in the evening later enters a positive test result into the app.
The NHS website says venue alerts are “only triggered if certain criteria are met”. These include the type of venue and the number of cases identified within a given time period, and are “determined by public health experts”.
‘Doing exactly what it was designed to do’
NationalWorld asked the Department for Health and Social Care whether it had plans to introduce a check out function on the app.
We also asked whether the Government was concerned that a big increase in venue alerts could impact people’s confidence about using hospitality businesses.
It did not address the questions directly, with a spokesperson instead saying that “the app is doing exactly what it was designed to do”.
“As cases continue rising it is vital people are aware of their personal risk so they can make informed decisions on their behaviour to protect those around them,” they added.
‘Help fight back against the pingdemic’
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said anything the Government could do to “help fight back against the pingdemic” would be welcomed by the hospitality sector.
She continued: “Forty-three per cent of pub staff are aged 18 to 25, meaning they are at the back of the queue for vaccines and many may not have their second jab until September.
“We urge the Government to work with us on this, to find a sensible solution that includes our young people and still ensures staff and customer safety.”
A spokesperson added that BBPA wanted to see a test-to-release scheme introduced.
The trade body UKHospitality said it would like to see the system reformed so it “doesn’t derail the recovery”.
A spokesperson said: “The industry is facing significant staffing challenges just as restrictions ease after 16 months, with up to as many as a fifth of staff in the sector isolating at any one time.
“We urge the Government to move quicker on this issue with a test-to-release system to prevent the summer being cancelled and vast swathes of the population unnecessarily confined to their homes.”
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