United Kingdom

Coronavirus: Britons contacted by NHS app do not have to self-isolate by law

Britons who have downloaded the NHS coronavirus tracing app do not have to self-isolate by law if they receive a notification telling them to do so, it emerged today.

Anyone contacted by an NHS Test and Trace worker does have to self-isolate, but the laws do not apply to those notified via the app, which now has 14million users.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 order people to self-isolate if they are contacted by Test and Trace.

However the law, which came into force at midnight on Sunday night, also provides an exemption for those who receive a notification from the app. 

The app was finally rolled out last Thursday four months later than planned, but people with phones more than five years old reported being unable to download it. 

A couple wearing face masks download the NHS Track and Trace app on their mobile phones

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 order people to self-isolate if contacted by Test and Trace, but not the app [bolded in red]

The software works by using Bluetooth technology to detect when users have come into close contact with someone who tests positive for the virus.

They then receive an alert telling them to self-isolate for 14 days and to book a test if they start suffering from Covid-19 symptoms.

Police are told they can use Covid-19 app on personal phones amid guideline confusion

Police officers have been told they can use the coronavirus contact tracing app on their personal smartphones while working if they wish to, amid confusion about guidelines.

The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) had initially asked officers to hold off downloading the app on both personal and work devices pending a technical assessment.

A spokesman denied any suggestion of 'security issues' or a policy reversal, saying such checks are standard procedure for any new software used on work-issued smartphones.

Guidance distributed to chiefs on Tuesday still recommends that officers do not install the app on work handsets.

Most police devices do not have Bluetooth enabled, which the app relies on to function.

Covert personnel or those in sensitive roles have been asked to consider not downloading it at all for the time being until more detailed guidance is given in the coming days, the NPCC spokesman added.

The Police Federation said it approached the NPCC on behalf of members following confusion over guidelines from police chiefs.

'The welfare of our members is absolutely paramount, and we view this app as a key part of the public campaign to contain the virus alongside personal protective equipment (PPE), distancing and hand hygiene,' said John Apter, national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales.

'For our colleagues and their families to be as safe as they can be, all these elements need to be used together.

'It is of course a personal decision if officers now want to download the app.

'However, we would encourage and urge our 120,000 members to do so for their own safety.'

The NHS Covid-19 app was rolled out across England and Wales last Thursday, using Bluetooth technology in smartphones to keep an anonymous log of people an individual comes into close contact with.

According to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the app was downloaded 12.4 million times by midday on Monday.

But although 'close contact' in theory means being within a two-metre radius of someone for at least 15 minutes, some people will receive alerts when they have been further away.

The app struggles to calculate distances so it may record someone as being in close contact even if they have been just over two metres away, and in rare cases up to four metres away.

The app is for those living in England and Wales. Northern Ireland and Scotland have their own contact tracing apps, which were launched at earlier dates.

The Government launched a major TV advertising campaign last weekend which encourages the public to 'Protect your loved ones. Get the app.'

But despite all the hype, there remain ongoing concerns about the NHS's overall Test and Trace programme, which the app is meant to be complimenting.

A BBC Panorama documentary broadcast on Monday night revealed that one employee working on the system had not contacted a single patient since its launch ten weeks ago.

The staff are paid around £10 an hour to call up the close contacts of patients who test positive for the virus, to tell them to self-isolate for 14 days.

People across England must now self-isolate if they test positive for Covid-19 or are contacted by the Test and Trace service or risk being hit with fines.

Fines are starting at £1,000 and increasing up to £10,000 for repeat offenders or serious breaches, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

People who have received a positive test must isolate for ten days after displaying symptoms or their test date if they do not have symptoms, while members of their household must isolate for 14 days.

The DHSC also said that police resources will be used to check compliance in the highest incidence areas and in high-risk groups based on 'local intelligence'.

But people on low incomes who cannot work from home and have lost income as a result will also be eligible for a new £500 test and trace support payment.

Local authorities will be working to set up test and trace support payment schemes, and the DHSC said it expected these to be in place by October 12.

If eligible, people told to self-isolate from Monday this week will receive backdated payments once the scheme is set up in their local authority, the DHSC said.

Just under four million people who are in receipt of benefits in England are expected to be eligible for this payment.

The DHSC said a number of other measures will be taken to ensure people comply with the rules including Test and Trace call handlers increasing contact with people self-isolating.

High profile and 'egregious' cases of non-compliance will be investigated and prosecuted while action will be taken on tip-offs from 'third parties' about people who have tested positive but are not self-isolating, the DHSC said.

A person uses the NHS coronavirus contact tracing app at a pub in London's Soho on Monday

An NHS track and trace app to scan at the Mid Hants Railway 'Watercress Line' in Hampshire

A DHSC spokesman said: 'Users of the official NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app are anonymous and we cannot force them to self-isolate or identify them if they are not self-isolating.

Contact tracing app Q&A: How does it work and will it make a sick note to take to my boss? 

How does it work?

Bluetooth technology will keep a record of which phones spend 15 minutes within two metres of one another and then alert people if they have been near someone who later tests positive for Covid-19.

People's phones are only recognised by the system if they are running the app themselves - it cannot detect others.

The contacts it keeps track of are all anonymous and phones exchange digital 'tokens' with every app-using phone within Bluetooth range.

If one person develops symptoms of the coronavirus or tests positive, they will be able to enter this information into the app.

The phone will then send out a notification to all the devices they have exchanged tokens with during the infection window, to make people aware they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Each phone keeps an individual log of the Bluetooth profiles someone has come close to. These will then be linked anonymously to people's NHS apps and alerts can be pushed through that even after the person is out of bluetooth range.

Will the app produce me a sick note?

The app will not generate a sick note itself.

But if you need one for an employer you can inform the NHS's online 111 service that you have been told to self-isolate by the app and it will generate one.

Will the government know if it tells me to self-isolate but I don't?

No, the system relies on the goodwill of users to comply with the app's request to self-isolate.

App users are entirely anonymous and the app cannot force them to self isolate or identify them if they are failing to do so.

Any personal data is anonymous and will not be sent to the government so police can check if the app's instructions are being followed.

The app can only react to data that people put into it, and it will only ever offer guidance. If a user reports that they have symptoms of coronavirus - a new continuous cough, a fever, or a changed sense of smell or taste, they will be urged to self-isolate for 10 days from the start of the symptoms and to get tested.

How well does it work?

The app is far from perfect, with the Department of Health has admitted that around half of people who are warned they have been near an infected person will actually not have been within the 2m for 15 minutes danger window.

And three out of 10 people who were put at risk - 31 per cent - won't receive a notification at all. In trials it had a 69 per cent accuracy rate at detecting people who had been at risk, and it was 55 per cent accurate at detecting people who had not.

'The app will advise a user to self-isolate if they have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. Users should follow that advice to protect their loved ones and stop the spread of the virus.'

Meanwhile, there has been a rise in the proportion of people who have an 'in-person' Covid-19 test getting their result within 24 hours.

New data from NHS Test and Trace shows that 38.1 per cent of people who were tested for Covid-19 in England in the week ending September 23 at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit - a so-called 'in-person' test - received their result within this timeframe.

This is up from 28.2 per cent in the previous week and follows weeks of problems with people accessing tests.

The best performance since the programme began was in the week ending July 1, when 94.3 per cent of in-person test results were returned in 24 hours.

Just 2.9 per cent of people in England who used a home test kit for Covid-19 received their result within 24 hours, the latest figures show, up slightly from 1.8 per cent in the previous week.

Some 30.4 per cent of people received the result of a home test within 48 hours, up from 11.3 per cent in the previous week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had pledged that, by the end of June, the results of all in-person tests would be back within 24 hours.

Today's data also showed that 71.6 per cent of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 were reached through the Test and Trace system.

This is down from 76.3 per cent in the previous week, but above the 69.9 per cent for the week to September 2, which is the lowest weekly figure to date.

For cases handled by local health protection teams, 97.6 per cent of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate, whereas the figure was 64.3 per cent for cases handled either online or by call centres.

A total of 31,373 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England in the week to September 23, the figures also showed.

This is an increase of 61 per cent in positive cases on the previous week and is the highest weekly number since Test and Trace was launched at the end of May.

The Government said testing capacity was increasing and the median distance travelled by people who go for a test is now 4.3 miles, down from 5.2 miles the previous week.

Baroness Dido Harding, interim executive chairwoman of the National Institute for Health Protection, said: 'One in eight people in England have now received a test at least once and with nearly 500 testing sites across the UK, the median distance to a test site is now just 4.3 miles.

'These are achievements in which everyone involved can be immensely proud. 

'We are continuing to work tirelessly to increase capacity and make tests as accessible as possible.

'Our new lab partnership with Birmingham University is another example of how the public, private and academic sectors are working together to meet our target of 500,000 test capacity a day.

'In the meantime, NHS Test and Trace has now reached more than half a million people and advised them to self-isolate - and in the past week more than 14 million people have downloaded the new Covid-19 app, all of which will help break the chains of transmission.'

Vaccinating population against coronavirus in the UK may take more than a year, say experts

It may take more than a year for everyone in the UK to get a Covid-19 vaccine should one become available early next year, experts have said.

Professor Nilay Shah, who is head of the department of chemical engineering at Imperial College London, said that even if a vaccine becomes available in early spring, it does not mean life will be 'returning to normal in March'.

He added that although the clinical trials for many of the Covid-19 vaccine candidates are currently being fast-tracked, they will still have to demonstrate a protective effect against Covid-19 and go through all the regulatory checks before being rolled out to the population.

Prof Shah, who is one of the authors of a new Royal Society report on vaccine development and implementation, told reporters at a media briefing: '(Even if) vaccination does start in the spring, it will take a long time to work through the different priority groups initially, and then the wider population later on.'

He added: 'We may be able to start the process but then to get through that vaccination process, it (will take) many months, maybe more than a year.'

Professor Charles Bangham, who is chairman of immunology at Imperial College London and co-author of the Royal Society's Delve (Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics) report, said the return to normal would have to be on a 'sliding scale' with a 'gradual relaxing' of some of the restrictions.

He said it was 'reasonable' to expect that an effective vaccine would 'give immunity that would last more than one year'.

Prof Bangham added: 'It is possible that, in the future, it will be necessary to re-vaccinate, just as we do with influenza.'

The Delve report discusses the scenarios, options and challenges involved in developing, manufacturing and distributing Covid-19 vaccines.

Dr Fiona Culley, of the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London and one of the lead authors of the report, said: 'Vaccines are held up as our best chance of getting our lives back to some sense of normality, but we have to be realistic.

'Planning now for the different scenarios that might play out will give us the best chance of taking rapid advantage of any vaccines that are proven to be safe and effective.'

There are more than 200 vaccine candidates being developed around the world, with more than 40 in clinical trials, nine of which are in the phase three stage.

Meanwhile, the UK has secured access to six different Covid-19 vaccine candidates in development, across four different types, representing more than 340 million doses.

Priority groups such as the elderly, frontline health and care home workers and those with serious diseases are first in line to receive a jab, should a vaccine be approved. 

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