Monday started with a red exclamation mark on the cell phone screen: “High risk of exposure to Covid-19”, followed by a self-isolation orientation for a week, with two coronavirus tests, start and end of period.
In the application itself, a link made it possible to issue a certificate for seven days of absence from work.
From an isolated case during the months of confinement and ban on bars and parties, these warnings were triggered with the return of activities in European countries and even gained a name: “pingdemic” – “ping”, in l occurrence is the sound of the cell phone when it comes to app notification.
These programs anonymously monitor close contacts of users for a significant period of time (typically anyone who is within 5 feet for at least 15 minutes). The “ping” is triggered when one of these contacts is diagnosed with Covid-19.
In England, which on Monday removed virtually all traffic restrictions, while the more contagious delta variant has increased the number of new cases.
With the gathering of more infected people finding more and more people, messages from the NHS (public health system) app, which detects contacts within 2 meters for 15 minutes, have exploded.
In the week ending July 14, 619,000 people were “dried”, joining the 500,000 from the previous week, affecting businesses requiring the physical presence of workers.
This month’s alerts already represent a quarter of all alerts sent since September of last year, when the system was put into service.
The situation is not worse because, according to a survey by the YouGov institute, a tenth of the users of the application have already excluded it from their mobile phones and, among those who keep it installed, 20% have deactivated the tracking. .
Using the app and isolating those who receive a “ping” is not required by English rules, but the practice is recommended by health authorities and has been encouraged in recent months, as a way to keep contagion. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called self-isolation a “vital tool” in the country’s defenses against the pandemic.
In England, the orientation is to be absent from work for ten days, unless a test indicates contamination with the coronavirus, which will require longer leave.
The Icelandic supermarket chain had to close stores, after registering the absence of more than 1,000 workers, I give 3% of its staff. According to management, the phenomenon goes beyond the company itself and also affects suppliers and carriers.
In London, the need for self-isolation of specialized employees even shut down a metro line last Saturday (17), according to the RMT union, in the transport sector.
The company that operates ports such as Southampton and Liverpool said the “pingdemia” has alienated up to 10% of crews in some of its units, and local governments have revoked the licenses of police officers, whose hijackings have already affected some services.
The companies have asked the UK government to expand the list of exceptions for sick leave — health workers who are fully vaccinated, for example, do not need to be quarantined.
Boris Johnson himself, and Finance Minister Rishi Sunak, were caught by the endangered application and forced into solitary confinement, precisely during “freedom week”, which began on Monday.
A change in focus was already planned from August 16: those who have been fully immunized for at least 14 days can forgo the leave if they test negative on a PCR test.
But, fearing an increase in shortages as photos of empty shelves circulate on social media, Economy Minister Kwasi Kwartegn said a new list of exceptions could be released later this week.
Relaxing the withdrawal rule makes sense, according to experts like Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia: ”.
The reduction in licenses for pings, however, may not completely solve the problem in the UK and other European countries which already fear a peak in Covid.
The chairman of the Loungers cafe and bar chain, which has 175 stores in the country, told British media that the number of positive tests among his employees has also increased since the beginning of the month.
In the week ending July 14, daily cases of Covid-19 in the UK increased by more than 60%, reaching their highest level since mid-January.
The more than 600,000 pings last week are expected to translate into 60,000 new cases next week, according to calculations by Cambridge University computer science professor Jon Crowcroft.
It took into account estimates of the rate of people using the apps, number of contacts made, recent new Covid diagnoses, and vaccination rates.
Crowcroft believes that changing the app’s notification criteria, as requested by some business owners, would not be an appropriate step, as the monitoring system would become unnecessary.
“The most reasonable is to change the advice for those who are ‘dribbling’, especially for those who are vaccinated: the most sensible is to do two tests, on two consecutive days. If they are negative, isolation is not necessary, ”he says.