The government has announced the sectors where workers may qualify for an exemption to self-isolation rules if they are pinged by the NHS Covid-19 app.

Official figures have shown that between 8 July and 14 July over 600,000 were asked to self-isolate by the app due to being in contact with someone who has tested positive. This figure is a risen from 521,033 asked to isolate the previous week.

In response the government, has published a list of 16 sectors that can exempt key workers from quarantine if they’re contacted by the app, in favour of carrying out daily testing. Provided workers receive a negative test they may continue to attend work.

The sectors are:

  • Energy
  • Civil nuclear
  • Digital infrastructure
  • Food production and supply
  • Waste
  • Water
  • Veterinary medicines
  • Essential chemicals
  • Essential transport
  • Medicines
  • Medical devices
  • Clinical consumable supplies
  • Emergency services
  • Border control
  • Essential defence
  • Local government

The announcement is not a blanket policy for those sectors, with around 10,000 workers likely to qualify under the new scheme. The policy will apply to ‘named workers in specifically approved workplaces who are fully vaccinated’. If a worker’s role is deemed critical to national infrastructure and their absence from the workplace could lead to the loss or compromise of the infrastructure, then they may qualify.

If employers believe that self-isolation of their staff will lead to severe disruption they can contact the relevant government department and provide information on the expected impact. The published guidance states: “where a specific case meets the criteria, the employer will receive a letter from the relevant department setting out the named critical workers designated and telling them what measures they and those workers need to follow.” Rapid decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis and will be kept under review.

While there was talk of the app being recalibrated to reduce its sensitivity, this hasn’t happened. Now BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT is calling for government policy to be recalibrated instead.

Dr Philip Scott, chair of the health and care executive at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, said: “I don’t think the problem is the app, it is incoherent government policy. By removing all restrictions, it is blindingly obvious there will be more contacts and hence more pings. Isolation exceptions for fully vaccinated people who test negative, whether healthcare staff or other groups for economic reasons, does seem fairly pragmatic. Anecdotally, app useage is becoming very patchy now so lots of pings will never get triggered.”

The NHS Covid-19 app was launched in September 2020, and since then close to four million people (3,943,572) have been asked to quarantine. Its developer, Swiss company Zühlke Engineering, was awarded a six month extension up to September to carry out the contact-tracing service.