Britons delete NHS track and trace app amid fear of being ‘pinged’

Concern vulnerable people are being forced into self-isolation as Covid cases surge in UK

Boris Johnson was warned on Wednesday that people in England were deleting the Covid track and trace app to avoid being ordered to self-isolate.

The UK Prime Minister did not respond when asked how his government would ensure people did not remove the National Health Service app from their phones, amid a sharp rise in Covid cases.

While almost all Covid restrictions will be removed on July 19, the requirement to self-isolate if a person comes into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus – causing a “ping” via the National Health Service app – will not be removed until August 16.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said this week there could be more than 100,000 new infections a day over the summer. Some reports have predicted millions could be forced to self-isolate.

“There are already too many stories of people deleting the NHS app – he must have seen those stories – and they are doing it because they can see what’s coming down the track,” Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, told Parliament on Wednesday.

“Of course we don’t support that, but under his plan it is entirely predictable.”

Mr Starmer said Mr Johnson’s roadmap out of restrictions risked undermining the track and trace system the government had poured money into.

“It won’t feel like Freedom Day to those who have to isolate,” he said, referring to July 19.

“When they are having to cancel their holidays, when they can’t go to the pub or even to their kids’ sports day and it won’t feel like Freedom Day … to the businesses who are already warning of carnage because of the loss of staff and customers.”

Mr Johnson was also criticised in Parliament for failing to share estimates of how many people could need to self-isolate as cases surged.

But he defended the much-criticised decision to remove the legal requirement to wear a face mask in public places in England.

He said it was “common sense” for people in confined spaces, such as the London Underground, to wear a mask “out of respect and courtesy” to others.

“But what we’re doing is cautiously, prudently moving from legal diktat to allowing people to take personal responsibility for their actions. That is the right way forward,” Mr Johnson told MPs.

Face coverings will become optional from July 19 in England, when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, despite a surge in case related to the Delta variant of the virus.

Mr Johnson was accused by Mr Starmer in the UK Parliament of setting Britain on a path towards a “summer of chaos”.

Mr Starmer referred to the Delta strain, which first appeared in India, as the “Johnson variant”.

He said infection rates were rising because “the prime minister let the Delta, or we can call it the Johnson variant, into the country”.

“Let’s be clear why the number of cases will surge so quickly: because he is taking all protections off in one go. That is reckless,” Mr Starmer said.

Mr Johnson defended the removal of most restrictions and pointed to the high vaccination rate in the UK.

“Scientists are also absolutely clear that we have severed the link between infection and serious disease and death,” he said.

“Currently there are only a 30th of the deaths that we were seeing at an equivalent position in previous waves of this pandemic.”

He said his government had sought “throughout this pandemic to minimise human suffering and loss of life”.

“I apologise for the suffering that the people of this country have endured,” he said. “Nothing I can say or do can take back the lost lives, the lost time spent with loved ones ... I’m deeply, deeply sorry for that.”

Updated: July 7th 2021, 2:54 PM
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