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UK public warned not to ignore Covid app as virus cases continue to rise

By Aine Fox, Ian Jones and Gavin Cordon, PA

People have been urged not to ignore the NHS Covid app if they are advised to self-isolate, after cases of the dominant Delta variant rose by a third in the past week.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it is important that people continue to use the app, amid concerns about the increasing numbers being “pinged” as restrictions are rolled back.

Rules governing travel for people in England are due to be eased on July 19 but measures on self-isolation for the fully vaccinated will remain in place until August 16, raising fears that people will delete the app rather than risk having to cancel a holiday.

Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “You shouldn’t ignore this (the app) because it is vital information. People should want to know if they have been in contact with somebody with coronavirus.

“You don’t want to be spreading it around. It can still harm people.”

The number of exposure alerts sent to users of the app in England soared by more than 60% in a week, according to the latest contact tracing figures.

The head of the UK Health Security Agency, Dr Jenny Harries, told the Commons Public Accounts Committee on Thursday that work is being done to “tune” the app to work within an increasingly vaccinated population to ensure it is there “for a purpose, not for annoyance”.

Mr Shapps reiterated this on Friday, saying the sensitivity of the app is being kept under constant review and that he has spoken to Health Secretary Sajid Javid about it.

“He is very aware of this and we will keep it under constant review because we want the app to be a useful tool in our armoury,” Mr Shapps told Sky News.

Professor Henry Potts, a member of the Spi-B group of behavioural experts advising the Government, said that if ministers want people to self-isolate they need to make it easier to do so.

“The problem of people deleting the app or simply turning the app off or ignoring what it says has been a problem for many months. We have seen steadily rising numbers of people deleting the app,” he told the Today programme.

He added: “The best way of improving isolation is more support – financial support, it can also be practical support.”

The latest figures from Public Health England show that 216,249 confirmed and probable cases of the Covid-19 Delta variant, first identified in India – which now accounts for approximately 99% of confirmed cases of coronavirus across the UK – have been identified in the four nations.

This is up by 54,268, a rise of 34%, from the previous week.

Of the 216,249 cases, 180,643 have been in England, 28,559 in Scotland, 3,666 in Wales and 3,381 in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has stressed the benefits of getting back to the workplace when coronavirus restrictions lift.

The order to work from home is expected to be scrapped on July 19 in England and Mr Sunak said he is looking forward to the shift back to offices.

But unions have raised concerns about the lack of guidance for employees to safely return to the workplace.

Mr Sunak told the Daily Telegraph: “I think, for young people especially, that ability to be in your office, be in your workplace and learn from others more directly, is something that’s really important, and I look forward to us slowly getting back to that.”

There have been widespread concerns about the economic impact of people staying at home, with town centre businesses such as cafes suffering from the lack of trade as workers have been kept away from their offices.

At Step 4 of England’s road map, the guidance to work from home where possible will end, to allow employers to start planning a safe return to workplaces.

Mr Sunak said it is not for ministers to tell firms what they should or should not do, adding: “Ultimately I trust people and businesses to make decisions for themselves.”

The Trades Union Congress has written to ministers to raise concerns about the lack of consultation on plans which will affect millions of workers.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady warned that without detailed plans the country could be “hobbled by rising infections and enforced self-isolation” keeping workers out of action.

It remains the case that the majority of people being admitted to hospital in England with the Delta variant are unvaccinated, the Public Health England figures show.

Of the 1,283 people under the age of 50 admitted to hospital in England as of June 21, 987 (77%) were unvaccinated.

Some 106 (8%) were less than 21 days after their first dose of vaccine, 118 (9%) 21 or more days after their first dose jab, and 48 (4%) were fully vaccinated.

For the 615 people aged 50 or over, almost one third were unvaccinated, while 265 (43%) were fully vaccinated.

As of June 21, there had been 257 deaths in England of people who were confirmed as having the Delta variant and who died within 28 days of a positive test.

Of the 26 people under 50, three were at least 21 days after a first dose of vaccine, two had received both doses and 21 were unvaccinated.

Of the 231 people aged 50 or over, 71 were unvaccinated while 116 had received both doses.

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