Covid app use in Norfolk falls by half in a week amid ‘pingdemic’ fears

A message to self-isolate, with one day of required isolation remaining, is displayed on the NHS cor

A message to self-isolate, with one day of required isolation remaining, is displayed on the NHS coronavirus contact tracing app on a mobile phone, in London. Picture date: Thursday July 15, 2021. - Credit: PA

Use of the the NHS Covid app in Norfolk has more than halved in the space of a week after the so-called "pingdemic".

The app was used to ‘check-in’ to venues just 64,206 times in the week to July 28, a big drop from the 152,625 in the previous week.

NHS Covid app code in cafe

Use of the the NHS Covid app in Norfolk has more than halved in the space of a week. - Credit: Getty Images

In the clearest sign yet that people are switching off the app, it continues a dramatic reduction from the 233,273 ‘check-ins’ seen in the week before lockdown restrictions were significantly eased on July 19.

Self-isolation alerts sent out by the app to people in Norfolk have also plummeted by 34pc in a week, government figures show, after record numbers of 'pings' last month.

Experts said the main reason for the sharp decrease in alerts is the fall in virus cases, but some acknowledged there could also be people simply not using the app anymore.

A major incentive for downloading it was removed following the easing of coronavirus restrictions, when it ceased to be compulsory to check into venues, which most people did by scanning a QR code with the app.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: "The primary reason for the fall in pings is the big drop in cases.

"There may have been some additional impact of people disabling that aspect of the app but the main reason is the drop in cases.

Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the UEA, believes it is the right time for increased social in

Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the UEA, believes it is the right time for increased social interaction between households amid the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant © 2013

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“There was a big rise in pings which corresponded to a rise in cases early in July and then cases have fallen and pings fell by give or take similar amounts. 

“It’s a chicken and egg situation trying to work out how much of that overall fall is due to a real fall in cases and how much is contributed to by people no longer using the app as much.”

On Monday it was announced that the app was being updated so fewer contacts will be instructed to isolate after an increase in people being pinged since lockdown restrictions ended - the so-called "pingdemic".

Health secretary Sajid Javid said the "logic" behind the app was being tweaked, although the sensitivity and risk threshold will remain unchanged.

Instead of checking contacts for five days before a positive test, the app will only go back two days.

Hospitality venues including pubs, bars, restaurants and cafés, leisure services like cinemas and hairdressers have to display the QR code for the app.

But businesses in Norwich said they had seen people become less keen to scan in since the July 19 easing.

Ali Hunt, manager at Yard on Pottergate in Norwich

Ali Hunt, manager at Yard on Pottergate in Norwich, said use of the NHS Covid app had declined amongst its customers. - Credit: Simon Parkin

Ali Hunt, manager at Yard bar and restaurant on Pottergate in Norwich, which opened for the first time on July 19, said it has initially required all customers to ‘check-in’.

“When we first opened lots of people were still using it and we were making it essential as well but then it became like face masks in that it was whether people were comfortable and there has been a big drop off.

“With the ‘pingdemic’ people became scared of having to isolate for 10 days, particularly now that things are opening up again and people have holidays and family events they don’t want to miss.” 

Ailana Mack, at the Copper Kettle Cafe on Lower Goat Lane, said diners were still being encouraged to ‘check in’. 

“Once people have been asked they feel like they need to do it,” she said. “But many just forget or don’t think about it. 

“People don’t want to wear masks anymore so they feel it’s gone away and they don’t have to ‘check-in’.” 

Public health officials in Norfolk last month urged people to not turn off the app.

Person self-isolating

Norfolk saw a record number of people told to isolate after being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid-19 app. - Credit: PA

Louise Smith, director of public health at Norfolk County Council, said: "While I understand it's really inconvenient being asked to self-isolate, my personal view is please keep using the app."

While there is a legal duty in England for people to self-isolate if they test positive or are contacted by NHS Test and Trace, this does not extend to notifications via the app, although the Government strongly advises people to do so.

'Why I put my app on hold' - Norwich specialist reporter David Hannant, 33 

DH byline pic

Norwich specialist reporter David Hannant - Credit: Archant

This week was a momentous occasion for my partner and me - the 20-week scan for our first son.

Fearing a ping would prevent me from being there for this life-affirming moment, I confess I did switch off contact tracing on the app - and have not 'checked in' anywhere since.

While I did, in part, feel guilt for this, I also could not face not being there - or worse my partner having to cancel it because of a ping.

Therefore, I took the conscious decision to turn off my phone's Bluetooth and temporarily cut out the risk

I did also, however, make a few other adaptations to mitigate for this - working from home in the days leading up to the scan and when I did venture out, gave myself wider berth than I perhaps ordinarily would have done - though I did not 'check in' anywhere I did visit.

I've had the app for yonks and have never pinged, so to some extent I must be fairly decent at keeping my distance anyway.

With the scan now done and everything well with the boy, I'm now active and scanning again.

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