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We Left England Just In Time – The Government Advice Continues To Be Ridiculous


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As of Monday, 19 July, most Covid-related rules governing behavior in homes and in public in England have been lifted so that life, such as it is, can get back to some kind of normality. Or at least that’s what the public has been told. Unfortunately, because the UK government is led by people who would struggle to run a lemonade stand, life, for a lot of England’s residents, is currently far from normal and, sadly, it’s only going to get worse.

A Bit Of Background

The UK government spent most of last year spending countless millions of taxpayer funds on developing a “track and trace” app that people are expected to use when visiting establishments such as restaurants, bars, and gyms and when they’re diagnosed with Covid.

The idea is that if people use their apps to record their visits to establishments where people congregate and if people tell the app if they have been diagnosed with Covid, the app can then alert people who have been in an establishment at the same time as someone who has Covid and those people are then advised to self-isolate for 10 days. The people being alerted may very well not have Covid and the advice to self-isolate may not be legally binding, but when, in the middle of a pandemic, a government app tells you that should be self-isolating, what kind of responsible person doesn’t take that advice seriously?

Note: If the NHS Track & Trace app tells you to self-isolate its only advice. If the NHS Track & Trace team gets in touch and tells you to self-isolate it’s a legal requirement to do so. 

The Problem Everyone Saw Coming

While people were still required to be careful when visiting restaurants, bars, and gyms, and while there were still limits on the number of people that were allowed inside popular establishments, the NHS Track & Trace app worked reasonably well. Sure, it relies heavily on the public actually using the app when they enter a public place and it relies heavily on people letting the app know when they’ve been diagnosed with Covid but, by and large, the app has been doing its job without causing widespread chaos.

Once it was announced that all Covid-related measures were going to be lifted in England, everyone with more than a couple of brain cells could see that the app was going to cause issues.

With all restrictions lifted, it was obvious that considerably more people would visit bars and restaurants, and with theatres and sports venues allowed to host thousands of people in confined areas, it didn’t take a genius to predict that the already rising numbers of Covid cases would start to rise even quicker (cases in England have been on the rise since the government first started lifting the more major restrictions over a month ago).

Rapidly rising Covid cases don’t necessarily have to translate into a rapidly rising death rate (the UK’s surprisingly successful vaccination program appears to be seeing to that), but a significant rise in Covid cases was always going to result in a significant rise in the number of people being told by the NHS Track & trace app that they should self-isolate for 10 days.

Just about everyone in the country could see this and the UK government was warned over and over again…but it chose to do nothing.

One Easy Solution Ignored

An easy “out” for the UK government would have been to say that anyone who has been fully vaccinated by the UK’s NHS (over 30 million people in England representing over 50% of the population) would not need to self-isolate even if “pinged” by the Track & Trace app. We keep being told how effective the vaccines are so there should be no issue telling all fully vaccinated individuals that they can ignore the advice to self-isolate in good conscience.

Amazingly, however, the government chose not to go down this path and instead, announced that everyone would continue to be be advised to self-isolate even if they were fully vaccinated. It then went on to say that fully vaccinated individuals could choose to ignore the advice from 19 August.

Why?

What, exactly, does the UK government think will happen between 19 July and 19 August that will put fully vaccinated people in a better position to ignore advice to self-isolate? We already know that someone cannot be classified as “fully vaccinated” before two weeks have passed since they received their second vaccine dose, so why not just say that fully vaccinated people can ignore the Track and Trace app right away? It’s not like their immune systems are going to be more Covid-resistant on 19 August. Their immune systems are as resistant to Covid now as they’re ever going to be.

Now

In the 7 days to 14 July, the NHS Track & Trace app advised over 600,000 people that they had to self-isolate and that’s data that only covers a time period before all of England’s Covid restrictions were lifted. Can you imagine how many people the app is currently advising to self-isolate now that all restrictions have been lifted?

Now, late to the game as ever, the government says that it’s finally changing the settings on the NHS Track & trace app to make it “less sensitive” (no timeline has been given for this update) and the public is being told that this will lead to fewer people being advised to self-isolate.

Really? *This* is the government’s solution?

Apparently, the government doesn’t think that’s it’s ok for fully vaccinated people to ignore the Track and Trace app’s advice to self-isolate but it’s ok to change the app’s settings and potentially allow those who are not fully vaccinated (and by the government’s own definitions, more likely to contract, carry, and pass on Covid-19) to go about their lives like nothing is the matter. Who thinks this stuff up?

Just like a lot of people, Joanna and I could see that England was not going to be a place to be when all restrictions were lifted so as we had no interest in finding ourselves being advised to self-isolate for 10 days for no good reason, we left town a little over a week ago and are now staying with friends in the Mediterranean.

We’re all fully vaccinated and were staying halfway up a mountain with very few other people anywhere near us so it’s almost like Covid isn’t a “thing” anymore. Sure, we still have to wear masks on the rare occasions that we go down the mountain to get groceries or if we want to go out to eat, but we have more space than we know what to do with, the sun is shining, a cool breeze is keeping the temperature to an acceptable level, the air is clear, the views are fantastic and there’s little chance that a venture out into the big wide world will result in an app advising us to remain indoors for 10 days.

It’s a little ironic (and it’s an indictment of how the UK government has been handling things) that although we’re currently in a country with considerably more Covid restrictions than England, life here feels considerably freer.

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13 COMMENTS

    • I have been using use testingforall.org for my day 2 and 8 tests and Collinson at LHR T5 for my day 5 “test to release” tests.

  1. Even dumber are the UK govts rules that say you have to quarantine for 10 days when going to the UK from an amber country if you are vaccinated and had that vaccine ANYWHERE except the UK.

  2. I agree that Test and Trace is an absurd waste of £37bn but that’s about the only thing in this piece that makes sense. Without nit-picking (eg there’s a huge difference between England and Great Britain), I would make the following points:

    a) while vaccination produces excellent immunity against hospitalization, it provides much less against actually catching the disease and, currently, more people who have COVID in GB have been vaccinated than not. Delta is extremely transmissible. If you have been vaccinated you don’t have much to worry about as it’s more than likely that, should you get it, the most you will suffer is akin to a summer cold.

    b) comparing staying on a remote mountain during COVID with staying on a crowded island (possibly a very crowded city such as London) is absurd – of course life will feel “freer” and more normal on a remote mountain than in the center of a large City.

    c) if “pinged” by the app there is no legal requirement to self-isolate.

    d) as a resident of London, it’s the best it’s ever been. Everything is open and all the major sites are fairly empty, whereas normally you can barely move for tourists. I am currently doing all the things which normally are full of tourists.

    • You are absolutely correct with regards to the app’s “advice”. I have amended the post to show that the app is only offering “advice” while a direct contact from the NHS Track and Trace team (phone, doorstep, or message) would constitute a legal requirement to self-isolate.

      However, as I now point out in the post, who in good conscience can ignore a government app that’s advising you to self-isolate when you’re living though a global pandemic and so many people have made so many sacrifices for the greater good? For most good people, the “advice” is a good as an order.

      As far as comparing living half-way up a mountain to living in England goes, that wan’t what I was trying to do. What I was trying to say (possibly not very well) is that despite being in a country with more restrictions than England, life feels more free because there’s no chance that a visit to a bar or restaurant will lead to advice to self-isolate.

  3. There are a lot of inaccuracies in this article. The app doesn’t make you isolate if you were in a venue where someone tests positive. If there was a breakout at a venue and you were there the app will let you know to be careful – but nothing more.

    On the other hand, if your phone is within 2m of someone else’s phone (with the app) who tests positive you are advised to self-isolate for 10 days from the interaction – however its only advice. The only time you have to self-isolate is if you are contacted directly by identified as a close contact of a positive case and contacted by the test and trace team.

    The app settings aren’t being changed as it is working as designed – with a lot of cases and no restrictions there is a lot of close contact. Vaccinated people can still catch and pass on the virus – using the app and isolating when suggested is a way of doing one small part to help move forward with life. Once we get to a point where everyone over 18 will have had two weeks since they were first eligible for their 2nd dose – around Aug-19 – the self-isolation for vaccinated people will be lifted – allowing maximum protection for those who want it.

    • The article has been amended to clarify that the NHS Track & Trace app offers advice to self-isolate while the NHS Track and Trace Team issues an oder to self-isolate.

      As I now point out in the article, however, what kind of person ignores advice to self-isolate in the middle of a pandemic? To a lot of people (me included) when a government agency “advises” me to self-isolate, that’s as good as an order. I’m in no way qualified to know how relevant or strong that advice is so I’m certainly not about to, potentially, put others at risk after I’ve been told that I may be just that…a risk.

      If that app is to be ignored at a person’s discretion, what on earth is the point of it? Do we ignore it when it suits us and follow its advice when 10 days at home seems like a nice idea?

      If anything, this is a further example of mixed-messaging and muddled thinking from the government.

  4. Another crackpot idea is that people who are double vaccinated in England do not have to isolate on return, everyone else does. The result is my sister, with 2 Pfizers administered in England can wander freely round Spain and when she goes back home all is well. Conversely because my 2 Pfizer’s were administered by a Spanish nurse I would have to isolate if I went to the U.K. utter madness!

  5. Could not agree more with you. I am a British – American citizen who lives in Miami and has a flight booked to go to England to see my elderly Mum in September. The UK Govt refuses to accept my fully vaccinated status, and I still have to quarantine upon arrival for ten days, take expensive covid tests on Day 2, 8 and also Day 5 if I want to get out of quarantine early. Utter nonsense. They are only recognizing fully vaccinated UK citizens who have the NHS app to confirm their vaccination, my Florida vaccination card is apparently insufficient proof. I haven’t seen my family in almost two years, and had been hoping these ridiculous rules would be abandoned for fully vaccinated US residents by now. I have lost all faith in the British government to do anything that resembles one iota of common sense. The app is just one more example of their inability to sensibly manage this crisis.

  6. That nearly every government in countries with relatively high vaccination rates has opted to retain meaningful restrictions on their vaccinated citizens might be an interesting tell. Not suggesting conspiracy theories but a bit of context. Lots of uncertainty remains. That technology in the UK fails and is not intuitively designed hardly seem worthy of a lengthy post. Frustrating regulations, certainly. But not uniquely British. Be patient.

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