NHS Covid app is 'holding workforce back' says Tobias Ellwood
Refuse collectors no longer have to self-isolate if they are alerted as a close contact by the NHS coronavirus app and can instead take a daily lateral flow test for the virus. The Government changed the rules for many key workers, including refuse collectors, last Tuesday after hundreds of thousands of people were being “pinged” every week.
But Unison, the UK’s largest trade union which represents a range of council waste collectors across the country, has said people who are alerted by the app should not be “forced” to go to work.
Councils around the UK have warned of vital services being stretched due to staff-shortages.
In the past week, local authorities in Bath and North East Somerset, Stoke-on-Trent, Oxfordshire and Harrogate, have raised concerns of waste collections being disrupted.
Refuse collectors are exempt from isolation rules if they are pinged by the NHS app
Fears are growing that rubbish could pile high on UK streets
James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said councils are working hard to keep services functioning.
He added: “However, the large numbers of close contacts being required to self-isolate is having an impact on some council services due to staff shortages."
To keep the country moving, ministers have exempt most frontline workers from isolation, including those in prisons, the food industry, transport, Border Force and police and fire services.
Instead those contacted by the NHS COVID-19 app or called by NHS Test and Trace as close coronavirus contacts must produce a daily negative test to be able to work.
More than 600,000 people were 'pinged' by the NHS app last week
In a statement, the Department for Health said: “'In addition to critical staff working in prisons, defence and waste collection, people working in energy, pharmaceuticals, telecoms, chemicals, communications, water, space, fish, veterinary medicine and HMRC will also be prioritised for the 1,200 new daily contact testing sites.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Whether it's prison guards reporting for duty, waste collectors keeping our streets clean or workers in our energy sector keeping the lights on, critical workers have been there for us at every stage of this global pandemic.
“As we learn to live with the virus, we will keep doing everything in our power to break chains of transmission and stop this virus in its tracks.
“Daily contact testing will play a vital role in this, helping minimise the potential for disruption caused by rising cases, while keeping staff protected.”
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The Government will also ease self-isolation rules for fully vaccinated people who come into contact with a positive case from August 16.
Some 689,313 users were told to self-isolate at home after being deemed a close contact of COVID-19.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has acknowledged the frustrations but urged people who are not exempt to continue to quarantine if they are advised to do so.
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Names of coronavirus variants
He said: "I appreciate that it is a significant number of people and it can be frustrating but the app is doing what we asked of it.
"It is helping us to trace those people who have come into contact with people who've tested positive.
"We still ask people, if they are pinged, to take the steps that they're required to do and to self-isolate."
Mr Jenrick added: "The Government has also set out slightly different arrangements for certain critical workers such as those working within the emergency services and within critical infrastructure such as the food industry, to help us through the remaining two or three weeks before those new rules come into place."