The NHS Covid app has been updated today to reduce the number of people that are ‘pinged’ and asked to self-isolate.
Health secretary Sajid Javid, who has led a review of the app, said the move was taken to reduce ‘disruption’ to people and businesses.
But the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) stressed that people should continue using the app, which it claims averted over 50,000 cases in the first three weeks of July, or 2,000 cases a day.
The DHSC said the tweak would see the ‘logic’ which underpins how close contacts are notified updated from today.
It said that currently, for people who input a positive test but are asymptomatic, the app looks for close contacts five days prior to a positive test, but this will be updated to look back at contacts two days prior to a positive test.
The change, which the DHSC said was based on ‘public health advice’, will mean fewer contacts that took place when the positive case was unlikely to be at the peak of their infectiousness are advised to self-isolate.
It said this will reduce the overall number of notifications sent by the app, but is not a tweak to the ‘sensitivity’ of the app, nor a change to the risk threshold. And it claimed that it ‘will result in the same number of high-risk contacts being advised to self-isolate’.
It comes as GPs recently told Management in Practice‘s sister title Pulse that their staffing had been badly affected by self-isolation absences due to receiving notifications from the NHS Covid app or the Test and Trace service.
Although new government guidance recently advised healthcare staff could continue working if identified as a Covid contact in exceptional circumstances, healthcare leaders expressed their intention to continue with self-isolation requirements in a bid to protect patients and staff.
Mr Javid said: ‘We want to reduce the disruption that self-isolation can cause for people and businesses, while ensuring we’re protecting those most at risk from this virus. This update to the app will help ensure that we are striking the right balance.
‘It’s so important that people isolate when asked to do so in order to stop the spread of the virus and protect their communities.’
Analysis by the UK Health Security Agency showed that the app had broken the links of transmission last month, resulting in an estimated 1,600 hospitalisations.
The data, based on an assumed 60% compliance with app instructions to self-isolate, suggested the app reduced Covid spread by 4.3% every say in the first three weeks of July, with every 200-250 tests entered into the app preventing one hospitalisation.
Meanwhile, despite reports that many people have deleted the app, the DHSC said 40% of the eligible population do regularly use it, and around 50% of all reported tests get logged via the app.
UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said the app ‘is a really practical example of how technology can be used to fight the biggest challenges we face in protecting and improving our health’.
She added: ‘The app is the simplest, easiest, and fastest way to find out whether you have been exposed to the virus, and it has saved thousands of lives over the course of this pandemic.
‘I strongly encourage everyone, even those fully vaccinated, to continue using the app. It is a lifesaving tool that helps us to stay safe and to protect those closest to us as we return to a more familiar way of life.’
It comes as fully-vaccinated people will no longer need to isolate when they are identified as a Covid contact from 16 August, and will instead be advised to take a PCR test.
It follows the move to continue to make masks mandatory in all healthcare settings, despite national restrictions lifting last month.