Downing Street has urged people to self-isolate if they are “flagged” by the NHS app, after Business Secretary Paul Scully suggested individuals and employers could choose to ignore the instructions.
Number 10 said employers ‘should not encourage’ workers to ignore isolation warnings, even if the app’s instructions are not legally enforceable, unlike the NHS test and trace contact, which is a legal requirement.
The comments come amid a furious backlash from Conservative MPs over use of the app, which they say is crippling businesses. The latest figures released by the NHS show more than half a million people were contacted and asked to self-isolate between July 1 and July 7, the highest weekly figure since the app launched .
On Monday, Boris Johnson said critical workers would be exempted and would be allowed to use regular testing instead, provided they are fully vaccinated against Covid. Although No.10 later said he would not provide a full list.
Business leaders and unions said these were “confusing and chaotic messages” and called for further consultation on the policy.
In comments that may further cause public concern over the use of the app, Scully told Times Radio, “It’s important to understand the rules. You must legally isolate yourself if you are … contacted by test and trace, or if you are trying to claim isolation payments. “
But he said there was a different legal basis for the application which he said was “for you to make informed decisions”. He added, “And I think that by giving up on demanding a lot of things, we are encouraging people to really have the data in their hands so that they can make decisions about what is best for them, whether they are an employer or an employer. employee. ”
Scully said people should always use the app to check in at locations, which he says has saved around 8,000 lives. “So it’s a really useful tool in our arsenal alongside the immunization program, but obviously it depends on individuals and employers,” he said.
A Whitehall source also confirmed that Investment Minister Gerry Grimstone wrote to at least one large manufacturing employer, first reported by The Times, telling them that the app’s instructions for isolating did not were only advisory.
A No 10 spokesperson said: ‘It is crucial that people isolate themselves when told to do so, either by NHS test and trace or the NHS Covid app.
“Companies should help employees isolate themselves, they should not encourage them to break the isolation. “
Shadow Minister of Health Justin Madders said: “Government makes itself up as it goes.
“If this is a real change in approach to the application, why did the Prime Minister not announce it last night? Again, there is more confusion and incompetence of the heart of government at the expense of public health. They have to hang on. “
The Institute of Directors, one of the UK’s leading lobby groups, said the confusion was hurting businesses. “Once again, the reopening of the economy is hampered by poor communication and mixed messages,” said its political director, Dr Roger Barker.
“The latest guidelines for companies make it clear that, by law, companies must not allow a lone worker to come to work. But, at the same time, the ministers inform the media that the application is merely advisory.
James Lowman, CEO of the Association of Convenience Stores, said: “We are really frustrated to hear different messages in private and in public, and different ministers and spokespersons are contradicting each other. “
The professional body has advised its members that staff who are nuts should exercise judgment, get tested, and come to work if the result is negative.
“It is ridiculous and unacceptable that business organizations have to interpret the rules and find a way to overcome the confusion created by the government,” Lowman said.
Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress, said: “This is an almighty mess and what happens when you don’t consult with unions and employers. The last thing we need right now is more messy and chaotic messaging. “
Ministers put aside proposals to urgently revise the contact tracing application to make it less sensitive to contact with potential positive cases.
Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are currently in isolation after Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive for the coronavirus. The couple have a legal obligation to self-isolate because they have been contacted by the official testing and traceability service.