Has the NHS COVID-19 App Outlived Its Usefulness? – Conservative Article
NHS Test and Trace has had a rough ride. Throughout its first year, it has struggled to live up to government ambitions. The government has even admitted that themselves. Although, thankfully for the UK’s pandemic response the performance of the app has improved. The vast majority of people were contacted in a timely manner. However, recently NHS Test and Trace, more specifically the NHS COVID-19 App, has come under increasing fire. As the UK comes out of lockdown with a high proportion of its people vaccinated, the app’s purpose and usefulness are being rightfully questioned.
To put some of this into context, over 500,000 people were sent a notification from the app telling them to self-isolate in the week starting the 5th of July. This was up dramatically from the week before of just over 300,000. This is the highest number of notifications sent out in a single week since January. And it will only increase.
Of course, what’s changed between now and January is our excellent vaccination progress. To date, two-thirds of the UK adult population have received both jabs, with that number rapidly increasing each day. This means that significant protection against COVID is granted, either getting the disease and/or passing it on. Obviously, no vaccine is ever 100% effective, and the Delta variant has proved to be more transmissible, as can be seen in the jump in cases. But this jump has not been replicated to the same extent in deaths and hospitalisations. People who are vaccinated can take comfort in the knowledge that they can spend time in society with others without putting them in danger.
But where does this leave Test and Trace? As I mentioned, over half a million people have been told to isolate just in this past week alone. But if they are vaccinated, their chances of being positive remain low. This means that they might perform their isolation, without actually testing positive, or being able to spread COVID. Thus they are prevented from going out, working, contributing to the economy. Moreover, they are also forced to spend time away from friends, and not being able to go out.
The Government has recognised this issue. From August 16th, those who have had both doses will not have to isolate if contacted by Test and Trace. Instead, they will be advised to test regularly to maintain certainty. Those under 18 will also not have to isolate. But this change is too late. Why not implement this now? The overwhelming majority of adults have been vaccinated, so it would only negatively impact their lives if they couldn’t take advantage of this now. In their eyes, the COVID App has just become useless. I wouldn’t blame anyone who has been double jabbed if they started to ignore the app now.
There is no difference between implementing it on July 19th or even the day they announced the change. Between July and August 16th, over four million people could be asked to self-isolate. This will seriously hamper economic recovery, disrupting industries, lives, and NHS workers. Had the Government made its August 16th change on July the 19th, then these problems wouldn’t exist.
Ministers are therefore worried that people are deleting the COVID app to avoid being notified. While the app was always advisory in the first place, it was downloaded over 26 million times. This doesn’t count redownloads of course. But a poll found that nearly one in five adults has deleted the app, confirming the above fears. Furthermore, one in five have said that they will delete it after July 19th. To attempt to stem the tide of this, ministers have confirmed that from July 19th changes will be made to the app to “make it less sensitive”. However, what this means in practice is unknown.
To me, this signals the fact that the NHS COVID app has lost its usefulness. As we learn to live with COVID-19, isolating contacts in this manner simply isn’t possible. While regular testing is important and should continue, the need for contact tracing has lessened. This means that the Government needs to adapt its approach quicker, else face its contact tracing app being deleted from people’s phones.
Written By Senior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
Point of Information
We Need to be Responsible and Continue to use the App – A Labour Response
It is currently a very weird time. We haven’t so much as triumphantly crossed over the finish line for freedom day but hobbled over it. Most people, myself included, are in a confusing limbo where we’re technically free to do as we please but life really hasn’t changed that much.
Make no mistake, we are not out of the woods yet. While we all want this to be over, we cannot lose sight that we are currently barrelling towards 100,000 cases a day. Herd immunity rate could be anywhere from 70% to 90% and then there’s the fact that even double vaccinated people can catch and spread COVID just as we saw with Sajid Javid.
Test and trace is still a tool we can use. We can still track Covid hotspots. We can still by time to get people vaccinated if people still choose to isolate if they are notified by the app. Talking more on isolating, my colleague says that there is no difference if the government waives isolation for under 18s and double jabbed people either now or between August 16th. This isn’t true, Downing Street has estimated that there could be an extra 25% of cases if they had changed the rules for July 19th.
The reasonable concern is that regardless of a vaccine, our NHS is going to struggle with the extra hospitalisations that 100,000 daily cases will bring, and then we’ll just be back right back to square one. Indoors.
It is highly concerning and we must urge restraint. Conservatives and anti-lockdown enthusiasts like to point to how lockdowns hurt the economy. Do you know what else hurts the economy? Working-age people are getting sick and our healthcare system is becoming overwhelmed. It is crucially important we all keep the app, listen when we need to and stop the spread before it’s too late yet again.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Joseph McLaughlin
Practical Responsibility is Needed – A Liberal Response
Kieran and Joseph represent the different sides of the argument very well. On the one hand, the NHS Covid App is obsolete. If not entirely responsible, it is at least understandable why people have bypassed the app when 88% of all adults have had their first vaccination. Hospitalization and death rates are nowhere near the levels of the second and third lockdowns. Therefore, we should take pride in our NHS and its vaccination program. Mass isolation is arguably more negative than positive at this stage. The resilience of millions should be paid with more freedom, not less.
Yet, we still need to be careful. The complete disbanding of all regulations has probably come too soon. Indeed, scientists were baffled by Johnson’s July decision. I disagree with Kieran as he argues that the decision for those with two doses to not isolate should be brought forward. As Sajid Javid shows, infections could pass onto those with only one vaccine. Until they are fully dosed, which will not happen until August for most under-25s, we should keep isolation rules until at least the end of July. We need to remember and build on the communal spirit which helped us survive the pandemic.
We also cannot forget about the wider world. What will be the international price for us letting COVID run rampant temporarily? Morally, it would be downright criminal to infect other fellow human beings from countries with a lower inoculation rate, risking their lives in the process, when we have the capabilities not to. It is our duty to other people to ensure their safety when we can do something about it. Economically too, there are shortcomings. As a result of the decision, we are experiencing high levels of shortages, and therefore inflation. This could result in significantly difficult times for businesses, even with the restrictions now gone.
So what’s the solution? Kieran is ultimately correct in stating that we need to live with the Coronavirus. Now that we’re reaching full inoculation, we should treat the virus as something more manageable. The NHS app, therefore, is becoming and should become, useless. Keep the testing and isolating going if need be, but without impractical alerts. It should be done on a more case-by-case basis by the person on the ground. Disband the nanny app. Put trust in the British people instead.
But we need to be responsible in a practical way. Rather than obsessing over the app, the real focus should be on NHS spending, income cheques, and border controls. The government must funnel more money into sustaining the health system which has single-handedly saved the nation. Hospitalizations will undoubtedly continue, and so we must make sure the NHS is equipped to deal with this. Second, we must implement a temporary form of UBI whilst inflation continues. Wages will not meet the prices that shortages are causing, and businesses will fail. Therefore, our people need to be bailed out. Finland and Stockton show how successful such an experiment can be. Finally, we must continue to enforce border restrictions. We have a duty to the world.
Let’s continue to be free, but free responsibly. Caution and practicality at the same time would be the ideal.
Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Frank Allen