Up to 4.5 million may need to self-isolate in U.K. due to ‘test and trace’ app

self isolation self isolate nhs test and trace app covid great britain uk
Photo via NHSCOVID19app/Twitter

An app utilized by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service is warning a number of British people that they need to self-isolate as a result of potential COVID-19 exposure. That number could grow to as many as 4.5 million between early July and mid-August, according to a BBC analysis of the numbers.

The COVID-19 Test and Trace app is designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, particularly with the delta variant causing an increase in case numbers and hospitalizations in Great Britain.

As CNBC reported, “in the week ending July 7, a record 520,194 people in England were alerted by the app that they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus and therefore needed to self-isolate.”

“Research published in the British Medical Journal in late June studied the interactions of 5,802 people over 14 days,” a July 16 account continued. “Finding that the average participant had 59 interactions that could be defined as close contact. The study found that for every infected person, an average of 36 close contacts would be able to be identified and contacted, which could mean millions are currently being told to self-isolate.”

According to the BBC’s reporting, the definition of “close contact” the NHS is using to determine the danger that individuals might face—requiring self isolation—factors in a number of scenarios.

It includes anyone who “lives in the same household as another person who has symptoms or has tested positive, has face-to-face contact including being coughed on or having a face-to-face conversation within one meter, has been within one meter for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact, has been within two meters of someone for more than 15 minutes (either as a one-off contact, or added up together over one day), or traveled in the same vehicle or plane as a confirmed case.”

The Guardian, characterizing the situation as “summer chaos,” noted that after forecasts made earlier this month projected as many as 10 million could need to self-isolate within a six-week period, Health Security Agency head Jenny Harries announced that the app would be tweaked “to make it less sensitive and account for the majority of adults now being vaccinated.”

The next day, however, communities secretary Robert Jenrick pushed back regarding how much tweaking of the app would actually take place.

“It is important we have the app, that we take it seriously and that when we do get those messages, we act accordingly,” he said.

From Aug. 16 forward, the U.K. is dropping the self-isolation requirement for people who are fully vaccinated. The New York Times notes that of July 16, 53% of the population is fully vaccinated, with 69% receiving at least one dose of a two-dose vaccine.

The NHS instructions for self-isolation include the guidance that it’s supposed to begin right away and last for 10 full days from last close contact. People self-isolating are instructed:

  • Do not leave your home for any reason—if you need food or medicine, order it online or by phone, or ask friends and family to drop it off at your home.
  • Do not have visitors in your home, including friends and family—except for essential care.
  • Try to avoid contact with anyone you live with as much as possible.

It also notes that “any people you live with and any people in your support bubble do not need to self-isolate if you do not have symptoms.”

This assertion is meeting with some resistance from Brits. According to a survey conducted by the Telegraph, “almost one in three people plan to delete the NHS Test and Trace app or have already banished it from their smartphones to avoid the ‘pingdemic’ sweeping Britain.” Thirty-nine percent of those between the ages of 25 to 34 plan to delete the app if they haven’t already.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to lift all COVID-19 restrictions across the nation on July 19, despite national case numbers being above the 50,000 mark for the first time since January. Critics are calling the move “unscientific and unethical.”

Sources: BBC, CNBC, Guardian, New York Times, NHS, Telegraph

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