Unite said hundreds of employees were on sick leave at several large factory sites, particularly in the automotive sector, after being “pinged” as a Covid contact by the app.
Latest NHS figures show more than 500,000 alerts were sent to app users in the week to July 7 – an increase of almost 50% from the previous week and the highest figure nowadays.
A senior minister said the government was “concerned” about the number of people on sick leave, but suggested that a planned adjustment to the sensitivity of the app – to reduce the number of people alerted – would not happen before several weeks.
“We will think more about how [the app] is a proportionate response, ”Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said Thursday. “The government will outline its plans in the coming weeks. “
Unite said some factories were struggling to operate due to absences imposed by the app, saying a major engine supplier told them the backlogs in orders were so severe that work could be permanently shifted into China.
The union said the government should not wait until August 16 to allow fully vaccinated adults to avoid self-isolation – warning that failure to make changes by July 19 would result in the mass removal of the application.
Unite Assistant General Secretary Steve Turner said: “No one is advocating that coronavirus checks go out the window… But the reports Unite is receiving from our members and their employers are extremely concerning. “
Mr Turner added: “Clearly something needs to be done in time for July 19 or people will just start removing the app en masse to avoid isolation notices. There will be public health consequences if the test and trace become considered a nuisance. “
Reports suggest that up to 700 workers are self-isolating at Nissan’s Sunderland plant. The auto giant did not confirm the number, but said there were serious staff shortages at its largest UK factory.
“Production in some areas of the plant has been adjusted as we are dealing with a number of staff who have to self-isolate after close contact with Covid-19,” a spokesperson said.
Stephen Phipson, managing director of Make UK, the body representing UK manufacturers, said “in some cases up to 20% of the workforce isolates itself”.
The government has rejected calls to propose the planned changes to the self-isolation rules from August 16 to July 19. But it was hoped that the sensitivity of the application could be quickly “tuned” to reduce the number of alerts sent.
However, he understood that the adjustments on proximity and how long a person must be in close contact with someone with Covid before the app’s “pings” are still several weeks away.
Authorities estimate how many more infections could occur if fewer people were told by the app to self-isolate, according to Time.
NHS leaders have pleaded with ministers to consider a special exemption for health service staff from current self-isolation rules, with some hospitals facing severe staff shortages.
Saffron Cordery, deputy managing director of NHS Providers, said The independent Last week, ministers are expected to create an opt-out option for health workers “as soon as possible” to allow staff to ignore alerts from the app.
About one in five adults in the UK have deleted the Covid-19 app from their phone, according to a survey by Savanta ComRes. The survey also found that more than a third of young people, aged 18 to 34, deleted the app.
The independent has contacted the Department of Health and Social Affairs (DHSC) for comment.