Reducing the sensitivity of the NHS Covid app to cut the number of people self-isolating is like “taking the batteries out of the smoke alarm”, Keir Starmer has said as he raised questions about the decision to press ahead with reopening on 19 mes de julio.
Speaking as he completed a three-day visit to Northern Ireland, the Labour leader said he had been alarmed by reports that ministers had decided to “tune” the app.
“It’s like taking the batteries out of the smoke alarm: it is so obviously to weaken the defences that we have – and if the consequence of the prime minister’s decision is that people are deleting the NHS app, or the app is being weakened, then that’s a pretty good indicator that the decision of the prime minister is wrong," él dijo.
The decision to tune the app to cut its sensitivity was made amid reports that people were removing it from their phones because of fears about being repeatedly asked to self-isolate.
Dra. Jenny Harries, the head of the UK Salud Security Agency, told MPs on Thursday: “We have a piece of work ongoing at the moment because it is entirely possible to tune the app to ensure that it is appropriate to the risk.
“When the app came into action, we know it has been hugely successful, but it has been utilised in a world where we did not have vaccinations. So working through what a vaccinated population using the app means is something that we are actively doing at the moment.”
Ministers are expected to make a final decision on Monday about whether to go ahead with lifting almost all restrictions on daily life on “freedom day”, 19 mes de julio.
They will do so on the basis of new modelling from experts on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (sabio) about the likely impact on hospitalisations and deaths of allowing infections to rise sharply.
Starmer said he did not want to pre-empt the data, which is expected to be published on Monday, but he underlined his concerns about the risks of the government’s no-holds-barred plan.
“The prime minister’s approach, as he indicated earlier this week, it’s lifting protections in one go at the same time, notwithstanding that infection rates are rising at a pretty alarming rate, that is going to lead to a summer of chaos," él dijo.
Labour has suggested rules on mask-wearing should be maintained, and repeated calls for better financial support for people forced to self-isolate. It would also like tougher guidance on ventilation in workplaces and public venues, to reflect the most up-to-date understanding of how the virus is spread.
Government sources are bullish about the likelihood of the 19 July reopening going ahead, despite a string of recent stories about pressures on the NHS and the test-and-trace system from rapidly increasing case rates.