Do I have to isolate if I’m pinged by the NHS app? All your self-isolation questions answered

Freedom Day arrived on July 19 and as the country moved out of its final stage of lockdown, more and more are now questioning the NHS Test and Trace app.

Previously being used to monitor positive cases and instruct individuals to self-isolate, the app has raised concerns after the Telegraph discovered hundreds of users reporting that they had been wrongly advised to isolate.

The source of confusion appears to be an over-sensitivity of the Bluetooth signal, which has seen individuals “pinged” after a neighbouring household reports a positive case.

As a result, ministers are looking to cut the sensitivity of the NHS Test and Trace app. Sajid Javid is understood to have asked officials to look at reducing the sensitivity amid a backlash over the extension of self-isolation rules for the double vaccinated until August 16. However, a Whitehall source has confirmed that the over-sensitvity of the Test and Trace app will not be reviewed for some weeks yet. 

It seems as though now, after months of getting the app to work for the majority of the country, many are deleting it to avoid having to self-isolate.

The public’s confidence has been further led astray after it came out that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak were not planning to isolate – after being identified as close contacts of Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, who recently tested positive for Covid.

The Prime Minister and Chancellor claimed to be part of a pilot scheme removing the rule to self-isolate – but it resulted in huge backlash from the public, forcing them to quarantine just hours later.

More and more people – particularly young adults – are getting pinged by the NHS app, with instructions to isolate immediately for 10 days, as cases continue to rise.

It comes as more than one in 10 pupils are missing school because of Covid rules as of July 13. A record 839,700 pupils are off school as a result of Covid, up from 641,200 the previous week, and a record high since classes went back in March.

This includes 624,000 children forced to self-isolate because of a case at school.

In line with dropping the sensitivity of the app, the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, is also said to be looking at the distance at which the app should monitor individuals and then decide to send the alert or not.

Boris Johnson insisted on Sunday that the right thing to do was “stick with the programme” on self-isolation. He added: “I know how frustrating it all is, but I really do urge everybody to stick with the programme and take the appropriate course of action when you are asked to do so by NHS Test and Trace.”

A list of workers who will be exempt from self-isolation if they are pinged by the NHS’s Covid app “is being worked on”, a minister has confirmed. However, the Prime Minister is being urged to consider expanding this list of exemptions to prevent further disruption.

With a “rising number” of those deleting the Test and Trace app, and the arrival of Freedom Day, we have your self-isolation questions answered.

What does self-isolation mean?

You must not leave your home if you’re self isolating. Government guidelines define self-isolation as not going to work, school or public areas, not using public transport or having visitors to your home, except for people providing essential care. You must only exercise in your home or garden. 

If possible, you’re told to stay in a well ventilated room with a window to the outside that can be opened. People outside of your household cannot visit, no matter how urgent it may be. If you do need to speak to someone urgently, do it over the phone. 

“You want to avoid opportunities for transmission, so you can talk to people on the phone or at a distance, but you want to minimise the chances they will come into contact with you directly,” says Professor Christl Donnelly, professor of applied statistics at Oxford University and professor of statistical epidemiology at Imperial College London.

Prof Donnelly says that if you’re in a house where someone is self-isolating, you’ll need to monitor your behaviour patterns closely: “Try to limit the possibility they will touch things that you’ve been touching.”

How long do I have to self-isolate after a positive test?

You usually have to self-isolate for 10 full days if you’ve tested positive for coronavirus or have been in close contact with someone who has it. You might need to self-isolate for longer if you get symptoms or if your symptoms do not go away.

Do I have to self-isolate if I have been vaccinated?

Currently, until August 16, yes. If you have been informed that you are a contact of a person who has tested positive for coronavirus, you must stay home and complete 10 full days of isolation. 

However, Sajid Javid has confirmed the self-isolation rules for those who have had both vaccine doses will change from August 16. The Health Secretary told BBC Breakfast: “We will have a more proportionate system of test, trace and isolate, and it is absolutely right that those that have been double jabbed that we can take a different approach than the one we take today.” 

Do I have to keep self-isolating if I get a negative test result?

You do not usually need to self-isolate if you get a negative result. But this does not guarantee you do not have Covid-19, so you must keep following all social distancing advice.

Do I have to self-isolate if the NHS app tells me to?

Legally, no. If you are “pinged” by the NHS Covid-19 app via a notification on your phone, there is no legal obligation to self-isolate. This is because downloading the app is voluntary and any instruction from it is simply guidance – rather than the law.

That is not to say you shouldn’t be responsible and self-isolate anyway – it’s just that there’s no legal imperative for you to do so. However, if you are told via an email, text or phone call from the Test and Trace service, you must legally isolate.

Nadhim Zahawi said on June 11 that a potential change to the app they are looking at is to get those ‘pinged’ to take lateral flow tests for five days, instead of having to self-isolate for 10 days.

Can I answer the door?

No. If you do get food or supplies delivered, they must be left outside for you to collect once the deliverer has departed. 

Dr Lisa Ackerley, a trustee of the Royal Society for Public Health and chartered environmental health practitioner, suggests you leave a note on the front door, with your number to ring if the delivery person needs to speak to you.

How do I self-isolate while living with others?

If you share a house with others, if possible, you should use a separate bathroom to those with whom you live. Ensure that everyone in the house uses separate towels both for drying themselves and for hand hygiene purposes. 

Regular cleaning of the bathroom will be required, as well as the creation of a bathroom rota for showering or bathing, with the isolated person using the bathroom last and thoroughly cleaning it after use. 

When using communal spaces, the isolated person should wear a face mask if one has been supplied. An isolated person should ideally not be in the same room as others while meals should be taken back to bedrooms to eat and should ideally be washed in a dishwasher immediately after use. If you do not have a dishwasher, plates should be washed separately and cleaned with a separate tea towel, according to Government guidance. 

Prof Donnelly highlights the kitchen as an area to be aware: “A key thing would be not sharing the kitchen in a shared household. People could put plates of food for you at your door.”

What should I do if I have children?

Prof Donnelly says that your decision “depends on the age of the child” – it’s hard to isolate yourself from a baby that needs around-the-clock care; easier to do so if your child or children are teenagers. “Realistically I think families are going to make different decisions on their personal circumstances in their home and their personal risk assessment,” she adds.

Do I need to wear a face mask?

If advised to, then yes you should wear a face mask. Though no longer legally enforceable, the public are being encouraged to continue wearing face masks in crowded places.

What should I do about work?

Guidance from Public Health England encourages those in self-isolation to impress the importance of self-isolation policies upon employers, not just in general but also in terms of preventing the spread of infection at work too. If you are well enough, make an agreement to work from home. 

Number 10 announced that double-jabbed frontline NHS workers will be able to avoid self-isolating if they are pinged, if they have a negative PCR test and agree to take lateral flow tests every 24 hours for the next seven to 10 days and just go to work.

The Department of Health said that staff taking part in the new scheme will be treated on a “case by case basis” and will only “be permitted to attend work in exceptional circumstances and where additional safety measures can be upheld”.

The new scheme “applies only to frontline NHS and social care staff where their absence may lead to a significant risk of harm”.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “These new rules will fortify our collective defences against this awful virus, by allowing fully vaccinated frontline NHS and social care staff to continue to work when needed.” 

NHS staff can refuse to return to work even if they are given an exemption from self-isolation requirements.

Do I get paid if I have to self-isolate?

If you are unable to work from home, you may ask your employer for leave to self-isolate. If they refuse, you can ask for annual leave or speak to your employer about whether you are eligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough). You may also be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) while you are self-isolating. If you are put on furlough while on sick leave or self-isolating, you will no longer get sick pay but should be treated as any other furloughed employee.

What else should I think about?

“Have packs of antimicrobial wipes and hand sanitisers at various locations in the house and encourage use by everyone,” says Dr Ackerley.

Do you have a self-isolation question? Leave it in the comments below