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‘I might delete it’: users on the NHS Covid-19 app amid the ‘pingdemic’

Postat la Jul 30, 2021

T he number of downloads of the NHS Covid-19 app has shrunk dramatically amid a “pingdemic” that is causing shortages of goods and workers, after former health secretary Jeremy Hunt warned last week that the government “risks losing social consent” for its test-and-trace programme if it does not allow fully vaccinated people to avoid isolation.

There were 43% fewer downloads of the NHS Covid-19 app in the week ending 30 June compared with the week ending 14 June, government data shows, while a record 689,313 people in England and Wales were contacted by the app and asked to self-isolate in the week to 12 July.

Between 24 and 30 June, the app was downloaded 170,412 times in England and Wales. While it was downloaded 302,895 times in the week ending 14 June, data indicates that the number of people actively using it in the way it was intended had already begun shrinking by then – a trend that has continued.

Graphic

In the week ending 14 July, for instance, the app recorded 2.3m fewer venue check-ins than in the last week of June in England – a drop of nearly 19%. The number of venue check-ins in England has now fallen further, with only 6.6m check-ins recorded in total in the week ending 21 July – a 47% drop compared with the week ending 30 June.

While the number of contact tracing alerts sent via the app has been steadily increasing since the third week of May, test-and-trace data shows that in the week ending 21 July, only 85.1% of positive cases transferred to the contact tracing system were reached and asked to provide information about their recent close contacts – the lowest percentage achieved since the week ending 28 October 2020.

As various sectors are affected by staff shortages as a result of rising Covid isolations, four people have spoken to the Guardian about the pressures they face after being pinged by the NHS Covid-19 app and asked to self-isolate. Although some intend to continue adhering to notifications from the app, despite disruption to their lives, others said they are considering deleting it, or have already. Some never downloaded it in the first place.

Daniel, rail industry worker

Daniel has been pinged several times by the NHS Covid-19 app.

He received another notification last week, asking him to self-isolate for six days until Friday last week, which he complied with. There are currently about 20 people off in his office and he felt he was put under pressure to return to work before the end of the isolation period.

“A couple of days after I got pinged, management tried to persuade me to come in and have a lateral flow test,” he said.

“I explained that I would have to refuse. How can I isolate and travel on busy trains and buses? The guy from my work told me, ‘I will put you down as unwilling to come into work then,’ and I had to call my regional office. They confirmed that coming in for a test was voluntary.

“I fail to see how asking people to travel in to take a test is within the guidance. It shows a total disregard for the community.”

Daniel intends to keep the app, but understands why others may think about deleting it. “People are being pinged because cases are rising, and I can see that people may feel under pressure, but it’s far too important to be left to individual choice.”

Hannah, full-time employee

However, Hannah, 39, a mother of two school-age children from London, has deleted the NHS Covid-19 app and admitted that she would not let test and trace know if she had symptoms or had come into contact with someone who has tested positive.

“When I had symptoms that could have been Covid, I did a home test [lateral flow] and ruled out infection this way. If it had been positive, I would have stayed at home, isolated and told other parents privately, but would not have let test and trace know,” she said.

“They would have harassed all the people I might have walked past at pickup time and forced them to isolate. It’s just too disruptive – lots of friends agree.”

“I am trying to be responsible, but my kids and the kids they go to school with have suffered enough. They missed out on many months of teaching and socialising, which has affected them hugely.

“Everything derails when you get pinged constantly and entire classes are sent home every time a child coughs. It’s just not sustainable, I’m afraid.”

Michael, Brighton resident

Others are undecided. Michael, 27, said he had thought about getting rid of the NHS app, but has not done so as yet.

“I thought about deleting it when I went into isolation a couple of weeks back, but decided to keep it. It is useful knowing when you might be potentially infectious and need to take a test, and also useful for signing into venues.”

Michael has since caught Covid and had to isolate again, though he wasn’t notified by the app. “I wasn’t warned by the app, but by a friend who had tested positive. It’s not fun and really knocked me out for a few days with fever, headaches and a cough. However, thanks to having had my first vaccine dose, the symptoms weren’t worse than flu.”

But, in future, he might delete the app, he said. “Leaving the house again was great after having spent more than half of July locked inside. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll keep the app, but once I have my second jab, I will probably consider deleting it.”

Angela, student

Angela (not her real name) has never had the Covid app and says she routinely provides false contact details when visiting venues. As a student, she relies on casual pub shifts to support herself.

“Thankfully, I was furloughed during the first and second lockdown, which was tough enough and forced me to use food banks here and there,” she said.

“But now I’m in a more precarious job, with bosses who have made clear they won’t pay us sick pay when we have to self-isolate. I can’t apply for the government’s £500 for people on low incomes who are isolating either. I feel terrible and constantly wash my hands and have rashes from using disinfectant all the time, but I simply cannot afford to be told to quarantine for 10 days, and perhaps repeatedly.

“I don’t know what I would do if I had symptoms, which thankfully hasn’t happened so far. It would put me in a real pickle.”