Health Secretary Sajid Javid is considering an “appropriate, balanced and proportionate” approach for self-isolation when people are ‘pinged’ by the NHS app, Rishi Sunak has said.
The chancellor told Sky News he has spoken to Mr Javid about “the frustration” that people have with the test and trace system, following reports that numerous people are deleting the application ahead of the government’s planned 19 July lockdown easing date through fear of being contacted.
It comes as on Wednesday, for the first time since January, more than 32,000 coronavirus cases were recorded in the daily figures.
Sky News understands the Department for Health and Social Care is looking at the sensitivity of the app.
Mr Sunak said the health secretary is “aware” of concerns regarding how the app is working and suggested he is “looking at” possible solutions.
He also noted that there are “two systems” of contact tracing and that the majority of concerns “rest with how the app is working”.
“I’ve spoken to the health secretary about this and he’s aware of the frustration that people have around this,” Mr Sunak told Sky News.
“We have two different systems for the test and trace: we have obviously the NHS one, and we also have the app. I know most people’s concerns rest with how the app is working and the health secretary is aware of that.
“The app counts for the majority of the people who need to isolate, I understand, on the numbers – and he’s looking at what the most appropriate, balanced and proportionate approach to isolation is in these circumstances.”
The chancellor also emphasised the need to strike a “balanced approach” to self-isolation as cases remain high.
“I appreciate people’s frustration with this. It is part of, what I call… what the prime minister called a balanced approach,” he said.
“We want to make sure that we proceed with the appropriate degree of caution and I think what people hopefully can look at is the enormously positive news of the restrictions being removed.”
His comments came as a study found the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in England is continuing to rise rapidly, recently doubling every six days.
According to new REACT study data, based on home swab tests taken by over 47,000 people between 24 June and 5 July, around 1 in 170 people had the virus during this period, or 0.59% of the population.
This is four times higher than the study’s previous report when 0.15% of people (1 in 670) were infected, as of 7 June.
At PMQs on Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer warned Boris Johnson it was “entirely predictable” that people had begun deleting the NHS contact-tracing app in order to avoid being “pinged” and having to self-isolate.
“They’re doing it because they can see what’s coming down the track,” he said. “Now of course we don’t support that, but under his plan it’s entirely predictable.”
Mr Johnson said the government was taking a “prudent approach” by “moving away from self-isolation towards testing over the course of the next few weeks”.
Almost all COVID rules – including limits on the number of people who can meet together, legal requirements on wearing face masks, and social distancing in pubs and bars – will be ditched as part of the final step of the roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions in England.
The move is due to take place on 19 July, but a final decision on whether it goes ahead will be made next week.
Should step four proceed later this month, it will see:
• No more limits on social contact to allow people to gather in groups of any size
• The removal of the “one metre-plus” rule in almost all settings, apart from specific places such as airports
• All remaining businesses, including nightclubs, able to re-open
• No capacity caps on large-scale events, such as sports matches, theatre shows or concerts
• No more legal requirement on wearing face masks in shops or on public transport
• The government will no longer require people to work from home
• No more limits on the number of people who are able to visit care home residents
Labour has accused the government of being “reckless” by aiming to remove the majority of measures in one go and called for the mandatory wearing of face masks on public transport to remain.