Fewer people to be told to self-isolate in wake of UK coronavirus ‘pingdemic’

Government hopes changes to contact tracing app will ease pressure on businesses.

Fewer people to be told to self-isolate in wake of UK coronavirus ‘pingdemic’

The U.K.’s “pingdemic” may finally ease up following changes to the National Health Service’s COVID-19 app on Monday, which will see fewer “close contacts” of coronavirus cases told to isolate. 

The changes announced by the health department will see only close contacts from two days prior to a positive test being told to self-isolate. Up until Monday, contacts from five days before the positive test were notified.

In recent weeks hundreds of thousands of people have been instructed to self-isolate after coming into close contact with a positive coronavirus case. Between July 15 and 21, for example, over 689,000 contact-tracing alerts were sent out in England and Wales, with the figures sharply rising from the end of June.

The so-called pingdemic has had far-reaching implications for businesses, food-supply chains and individuals who’ve been told to isolate for 10 days. The government has come under increasing pressure to make the app less sensitive so that it “pings” fewer people, or to bring forward the date on which double-vaccinated people will no longer need to self-isolate following contact with a positive case, which is currently set for August 16.

Explaining the reasoning for the change to the app, the health ministry said it would mean fewer people who were exposed to a case that was “unlikely to be at the peak of … infectiousness” would be advised to self-isolate. 

“We want to reduce the disruption that self-isolation can cause for people and businesses, while ensuring we’re protecting those most at risk from this virus,” said Health Secretary Sajid Javid in a statement. “This update to the app will help ensure that we are striking the right balance.”

In the statement, the health ministry also backed the importance of the app, citing data indicating that in the first three weeks of July, the app prevented an estimated 1,600 hospitalizations and averted up to 2,000 cases a day.