NHS Covid app: from 16 August exposure alerts will ask users if they have been fully vaccinated

With rules of quarantine being relaxed next month, app will turn off isolation timer for those who indicate they have been double-jabbed

Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire/PA Images

Exposure notifications sent via the NHS Covid-19 app will soon determine what advice to give users by asking whether they have been fully vaccinated.

The contact-tracing technology notifies users if they have come into close contact – typically meaning at least 15 minutes at a distance of less than 2m – with someone who later tested positive for coronavirus. 

Currently, these alerts come with an instruction: “You need to self-isolate immediately.” 

A countdown clock is then started to allow the user to track the self-isolation period, which will last until 10 full days have elapsed after the contact occurred. 

From 16 August, the government advice on self-isolation is to change, with citizens who have been fully vaccinated no longer required to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus. Under-18s will also no longer be subject to self-isolation instructions.

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The NHS Covid-19 app does not contain any information on a user’s vaccination status – or, indeed, any personal data at all; the only information users are asked to provide is the first half of their postcode. Users of the technology, which detects contacts via Bluetooth signals, are entirely anonymous, with each assigned a random ID.

After the advice changes on 16 August, when a user receives an exposure notification the app will intially ask them whether they have been fully vaccinated, PublicTechnology understands.

If the user then indicates that they are fully vaccinated – meaning they received their second dose more than two weeks previously – the isolation countdown timer will be turned off and will no longer display. The user in question will, instead, be directed to advice on whether they need to take a test; everyone who tests positive for the virus will still be required to isolate, regardless of vaccine status.

Users who indicate that they have not yet received both jabs will be instructed to self-isolate immediately and for the duration of the required time period, which will be marked on the timer.

Rise in alerts
Since its launch in September 2020, the NHS Covid-19 app has been downloaded almost 26 million times – although data recently showed that there were only 16 million users who had partially or fully enabled the app. Even this figure included those who had turned off contact tracing. 

The most recent weekly data, for 17 to 23 June, showed that the app sent 218,985 contact alerts. 

The number of weekly alerts has risen dramatically since leisure and hospitality businesses began reopening. 

During the last week of April and the first three weeks of May, a total of between 9,000 and 10,000 alerts were sent each week.

By the beginning of June, this had reached almost 50,000 and then, for the week ending 16 June, 150,000 alerts were sent.

Although adhering to a self-isolation instruction is now a legal duty – and subject to a £1,000 fine for those who fail to do so – the government has previously acknowledged that “users of the official NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app are anonymous and we cannot force them to self-isolate or identify them if they are not self-isolating”.

Nor will the app have any means of ascertaining whether, from 16 August, a user provides false information when asked about their vaccine status.


Sam Trendall

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