Matt Hancock reportedly ignored advice that could have reduced severity of pingdemic
By Max Parry
Published: 17/08/2021- 17:10
Updated: 14/02/2023- 11:13
Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock was reportedly asked whether the NHS Covid-19 app should be amended to alert contacts of positive cases from two days back rather than five days, but no change was made.
The app was tweaked earlier this month amid the so-called “pingdemic”, which had seen hundreds of thousands of alerts sent out telling people to isolate because they had come into contact with someone who had the virus.
A message to self-isolate displayed on the NHS coronavirus contact tracing app.
The high number of alerts caused disruption to several sectors as workers had to stay at home after being pinged.
It was announced on August 2 that fewer contacts would be notified in future after the app’s “logic” was updated to alert only those contacts two days prior to a positive test, rather than five days.
But the Guardian has reported an unnamed Whitehall source as saying Mr Hancock, who resigned on June 26 amid public outrage after leaked CCTV footage showed him kissing an aide in breach of coronavirus social distancing rules, had previously been told that the app was working to five days, rather than two.
The person told the newspaper: “The standard definition of a contact in all the scientific and public stuff from Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace is someone who has been in contact from two days before they have symptoms and if they don’t have symptoms but test positive, you go back two days from the test.
“But the app had five days in it. A submission was made to Hancock from Test and Trace people around the time of his resignation saying ‘it’s five days but it should be two days: should we change it now?’ And it didn’t happen.”
Matt Hancock outside his home in north-west London, the day after a series of WhatsApp exchanges were published, criticising him over coronavirus testing.
Under the Test and Trace system, a contact is considered a person who has been close to someone who has tested positive any time from two days before the person developed symptoms, or from two days before the date their positive test was taken.
Asked whether they disputed the Guardian story, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “The NHS Covid-19 App is a key tool in our pandemic response, saving thousands of lives and breaking chains of transmission. The app prevented up to 2,000 cases of Covid-19 a day in July.
“App users will only ever be advised to isolate if they have been in close contact with an individual who goes on to test positive for Covid-19. It is important users isolate when asked to do so in order to stop the spread of the virus.
“The recent change to the app logic will result in fewer low-risk contacts being advised to isolate, while advising the same number of high-risk contacts to self-isolate.”
Since Monday people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to isolate if they are alerted to having been a contact of someone with the virus and have no symptoms, but they are advised to take a PCR test.