The coronavirus app will not be made less sensitive despite shops and restaurants having to close because so many staff members are getting “pinged”.
Hundreds of thousands of people are self-isolating after being "pinged" by the app, regardless of whether they are testing negative for coronavirus. The so-called “pingdemic” has led to staff shortages everywhere from the NHS to supermarkets.
Businesses have warned that between five to ten million people could be quarantining by August 16 – when the self-isolation requirement will be scrapped for under 18s and fully-vaccinated adults who come into contact with positive people.
However, the Government has now ruled out tweaking its sensitivity even though people have reported getting “pinged” through walls. No10 also ruled out bringing forward the August 16 date.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: "We recognise that with high cases that also means a high number of people being required to isolate and that does present significant challenges to businesses.
"We need to strike the right balance between protecting lives and livelihoods.
"That’s why we believe it is entirely right that people asked to do so do isolate because we know it prevents onward transmission and eases pressure on our NHS which is facing a significant challenge."
Asked whether the app was working as expected and so would not be tweaked, the spokesman said: "That’s correct."
However, he said they would "constantly review" issues around critical workers and critical infrastructure.
It comes after business leaders called for changes to be brought forward and warned that the self-isolation rules are “crippling the economy in every sector”.
CBI President Lord Karan Bilimoria described it as a “very serious” situation and called for rules to be changed.
He told TalkRadio: “What’s happening now is we’re opening up the economy on the one hand today, but we’re closing it down on the other hand.
“There are estimates, that we’ve made, that up to five million people could be self-isolating - some estimates are 10 million people – by August 16.
“It’s crippling the economy at the moment in every sector – whether it’s a National Health Service up to 25 per cent shortages, hospitality 20 per cent shortages, shops are closing, supermarket branches are closing, it’s across the board in all sectors. Everyone in business is suffering with this, we’ve got to stop this right now.”
The warning came as shares tumbled on Monday as Covid restrictions were lifted, with the City fretting over rising infection rates that some fear could lead to fresh lockdowns.
The FTSE 100 lost 130 points to 6873 in early trading, sliding below the 7000 mark to its lowest level for several months.
Falls in travel, leisure, airline and oil stocks took about £40 billion off the value of the UK’s premier share index.
Neil Wilson, at Markets.com, said: “Freedom Day has turned into freefall day for the FTSE. Markets are forward-looking and they don’t much like what they see on the horizon with delta, rising cases, other variants and potentially a lower level of vaccine efficacy.”
The Confederation of British Industry warned that staff shortages due to the “pingdemic” could close supermarkets and bring car production to a halt.
Russ Mould, at AJ Bell, said: “There is no ticker tape parade, cheers from the rooftops or people dancing in the streets as Freedom Day finally comes. The UK stock market is certainly not in a celebrating mood. Many of the stocks leading the UK stock market downwards are related to travel and leisure, suggesting that investors are extremely worried that we’ve lifted restrictions too soon and that another lockdown could be a month or two round the corner.”
Richard Walker, managing director of supermarket chain Iceland, said around four per cent of the total workforce were currently absent because of coronavirus.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “A number of stores have had to close and the concern is that as this thing rises exponentially, as we have just been hearing, it could get a lot worse, a lot quicker.”
Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of pub chain Greene King, added: “We had to close, in the last seven days, 33 pubs due to lack of staff because of self-isolation.”
Humphrey Cobbold, chief executive of PureGym, said: “We’ve been talking for a while internally about living in the ‘United Pingdom’ and it has become a huge challenge for individuals and businesses. Up to 25 per cent, in some areas, of our staff have been asked to self-isolate.”
Former prime minister Tony Blair is also among those calling for the August 16 date to be brought forward.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng acknowledged the number of workers being “pinged” by the NHS Covid-19 app was the “single biggest issue” being raised with him by company bosses.
He told LBC: “We had to consider two things: We had to obviously open up in the way that we said we would and we wanted to, but at the same time we’ve got to give extra precaution so that’s why we’re going to be asking people to self-isolate until August 16.”
Pressed on whether there would be any movement, he replied: “There isn’t any movement on it, it’s going to be August 16.”