As part of the easing of coronavirus restrictions in England from 19 July onwards, it ceased to be compulsory to check into venues, which the majority of people did by scanning QR codes with the NHS Covid app.
People are “pinged” by the app if they check into a venue where someone tests positive. They are also alerted if their phone’s Bluetooth function detects a close continuous close contact with another app user who is later found to have coronavirus.
The number of app downloads has shrunk dramatically since the rule change, while many others will have deleted it amid reports of a “pingdemic” of workers across the country being forced to isolate after receiving alerts, affecting supply chains and the economy.
On Monday this week it was announced that the app was being updated so fewer contacts would be instructed to isolate after an increase in people being pinged since lockdown restrictions ended.
The health secretary, Sajid Javid, said the “logic” behind the app was being tweaked, although the sensitivity and risk threshold would remain unchanged.
Instead of checking contacts for five days before a positive test, the app will only go back two days.
Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M) advising ministers, described the app as “incredibly useful”, despite large numbers of people being asked to isolate.
He instructed Sky News: “I know there have been some challenges in terms of, particularly at the moment, the so-called ‘pingdemic’, but in terms of being able to detect contact, it has been extremely valuable.
“Obviously the challenge with that is that a lot of people are going into isolation and over the last few days the app has been made less sensitive.”
Tildesley stated there was a fear that if too many individuals are pinged, fewer may be keen to conform, however he added that the tweak would “hopefully guarantee higher levels of compliance”.