Pings and exemptions: What are the rules around self-isolation?

Supermarket depot workers

Some supermarket depot workers and food manufacturers will be exempt from self isolating whatever their vaccination status. - Credit: PA

Concerns have been raised about the record numbers of people in Norfolk and Waveney self-isolating after being 'pinged' by the NHS Covid app.

This has been partly fuelled by confusion about the difference being pinged by the app and being contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

With some critical workers to be told they won't have to self-isolate at all, and with changes planned next month, what are the current self-isolating rules?

A message to self-isolate, with one day of required isolation remaining

A message to self-isolate, with one day of required isolation remaining, is displayed on the NHS coronavirus contact tracing app - Credit: PA

What are the current self-isolation rules?

NHS guidance says that people should self-isolate immediately if they have Covid-19 symptoms, test positive for the virus, live with someone with symptoms or who has tested positive, or have been told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace or the NHS Covid-19 app.

When people test positive, they are asked to provide details of close contacts. This includes people they've spent at least 15 minutes with, at a distance of less than two metres, sexual partners, people they live with or have had face-to-face conversations with, at a distance of less than one metre.

NHS Test and Trace staff

NHS Test and Trace staff phone and visit the homes of people self isolating to enforce the rules. - Credit: PA

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These contacts are then approached by text, email or phone by NHS Test and Trace. If you are contacted in this way, you must self-isolate at home for 10 days from your last point of contact with the person.

Refusing to do so is illegal in England, with fines starting at £1,000.

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Other people in your household don't have to self-isolate unless you or they develop symptoms.

So anyone 'pinged' by the app also has to isolate?

It is not as simple as that. The legal duty for people to self-isolate does not extend to the NHS Covid-19 app.

The app alerts - or ‘pings’ - people when it detects their phone has been within two metres for 15 minutes or more with the phone of someone who has tested positive.

A notification issued by the NHS coronavirus contact tracing app - informing a person of the need to

There has been a spike in the number of people being 'pinged' by the NHS COVID app, asking them to self-isolate - Credit: PA

Norfolk saw a record number of people being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid-19 app between July 8 and 15.

The growing 'pingdemic' has left businesses in Norfolk and Waveney fearful for their future and risked charities' frontline work being impacted.

If you are pinged you are advised - but not legally obliged - to self-isolate for 10 days or fewer, depending on how long ago you were in close proximity to the ‘infected person’.

So while those who do not isolate after testing positive or being contacted by NHS Test and Trace can face fines of up to £10,000, this does not apply to people being pinged.

Why is there this difference? 

The government has said it is because users of the official NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app are anonymous and “we cannot force them to self-isolate or identify them if they are not self-isolating”.

Person self-isolating

Norfolk has seen a record number of people told to isolate after being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid-19 app. - Credit: PA

I'm fully vaccinated, do I need to self-isolate?

Yes, for now. However, from August 16, people who've had both jabs will no longer have to self-isolate after close contact with someone who tests positive.

Under-18s also won't have to isolate after contact with a positive case - to prevent entire school classes or year groups having to self-isolate.

Will I be paid if I self-isolate?

A £500 grant is available to people on low incomes who have to self-isolate. This includes parents who can't work because their child has to self-isolate. However, many applications have been turned down.

You may also be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay, which is worth £96.35 a week, or more if your employer has a sick pay scheme.

What is the self-isolation exemption scheme?

The government has announced some critical workers in certain sectors can now be exempted and won't have to self-isolate if they are contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

It comes after employers said they were struggling because of the number of employees isolating at home with supply chains slowing down and supermarkets experiencing empty shelves.

Which workers won't need to self-isolate?

Sixteen sectors are entitled to apply for an exemption.

These are energy, civil nuclear, digital infrastructure, food production and supply, waste, water, veterinary medicines, essential chemicals, essential transport, medicines, medical devices, clinical consumable supplies, emergency services, border control, essential defence outputs and local government.

People queuing coronavirus testing.

People queuing coronavirus testing. Those testing positive legally have to self-isolate. - Credit: PA

Can any staff member in those industries ignore a ping from the NHS app?

No. The government says it is not a "blanket exemption for all workers in a sector".

Only around 10,000 food supply chain workers are expected to be included along with those in other eligible sectors. They must be fully vaccinated, with their second jab at least two weeks ago. 

Anyone with a positive Covid test will have still to self-isolate.

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