Death of NHS Covid app: Use of software behind hated 'pingdemic' plunges up to 180-fold since June


The app responsible for England’s hated ‘pingdemic’ is on the brink of death, experts claimed today as NHS data showed usage is up to 180 times lower than it was. 

At the peak of its powers in summer, there were as many as 14.5million check-ins a week, the equivalent of around one in four people scanning a barcode once. 

Yet latest figures reveal just 220,000 people used the QR-code software to sign in at pubs, restaurants and other venues in the week ending October 27, meaning usage has plummeted 60-fold nationally.

But MailOnline analysis of the NHS data shows the drop was even starker in parts of the country. Just 557 check-ins were made in Liverpool during the final week of October, compared to around 100,000 in June. Manchester and Wandsworth also saw massive drops. 

Scientists today called on ministers to ‘junk’ the app for good or encourage people to use it more, warning it was now only having an ‘at best’ minimal impact on the spread of the virus.

The software was part of the £37billion Test and Trace, which MPs labelled an ‘eye-watering’ waste of taxpayers’ money that ‘did not achieve’ its main objective of putting the lid on the spread of the virus. It also played a huge role in the country’s ‘pingdemic’, urging hundreds of thousands of workers to quarantine at home, leaving shelves empty and rubbish piled high in the streets. 

Professor Kevin McConway, a statistician at the Open University, argued it was likely even fewer people were using the app, which cost £35million to develop, than the figures suggested because the few still plugged in were likely using it to check-in to more than one venue a week.

He warned that checking into venues using the software was ‘perhaps not far off being dead’. 

The above graph shows the number of check-ins on the NHS Covid app in England registered every week since June. The blue line shows the cumulative number. It reveals that at the peak in July there were some 14.5million check-ins a week, but now it has fallen 66 times to as low as 220,000

The above graph shows the number of check-ins on the NHS Covid app in England registered every week since June. The blue line shows the cumulative number. It reveals that at the peak in July there were some 14.5million check-ins a week, but now it has fallen 66 times to as low as 220,000

The above graph shows the top ten areas that have turned away from the NHS Covid app. It reveals the number of check-ins on the app at the peak on June 2 (red) and the number of check-ins in the most recent week to October 27 (orange)

The above graph shows the top ten areas that have turned away from the NHS Covid app. It reveals the number of check-ins on the app at the peak on June 2 (red) and the number of check-ins in the most recent week to October 27 (orange)

The number of Covid tests linked to the app has also fallen, figures showed. People are advised to tell the app if they have a positive test so that it can alert others. The above graph shows the number of results linked to the device.

The number of Covid tests linked to the app has also fallen, figures showed. People are advised to tell the app if they have a positive test so that it can alert others. The above graph shows the number of results linked to the device.

Pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and other businesses have not been required to collect customers contact details from July 19, when most remaining Covid restrictions were dropped in England.

But the Government website says they are still ‘strongly encouraged’ to do this and should be ready to check-in any customers that ‘wish to do so’. 

Use of the NHS Covid app has always been voluntary, and people in England appear to have ‘voted with their phones’ to stop using the burdensome technology. 

Ten areas of England that were fastest to shrug off the NHS Covid app 

The NHS Covid app is now used about 66 times less in England than it was at its peak.

Figures from NHS Test and Trace revealed the areas where use has dropped the most. 

Local authority in England

Liverpool

Manchester

Wandsworth

Rotherham

Lincoln

Sunderland

Salford

Nottingham

Hammersmith

Newcastle 

Check-ins, w/e June 2

102,981

170,928

136,690

68,500

60,499

75,092

62,722

116,155

60,180

101,135 

Check-ins, w/e October 27

557

951

876

450

404

512

428

802

423

722 

Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at Reading University, said that the app was now ‘at best minimally effective’ and was ‘no longer doing what it’s designed for’.

He told MailOnline: ‘The Government should just junk it or get people to use it again. Sajid Javid did say at his last press conference that there was the possibility of 100,000 infections a day, and [Professor Jonathan] Van-Tam is thinking there are a hard few months ahead of us.

‘So either the Government thinks the app is not as effective as it was made out to be, or they should encourage people to use it again.’

Dr Clarke said he has the app but hasn’t used it in months. Despite having it activated, he said it has never sent him an alert to self-isolate. 

Professor McConway said checking into venues ‘is perhaps not far off being dead’.

But he added that its alert function still appeared to be working for those checking in when visiting pubs, bars and restaurants, telling MailOnline: ‘The app is still sending alerts out about venues — indeed it sent out more in the most recent week than it had in any previous week.

‘So even on that function of the app, it still seems to be sending out alerts that might be useful to the people who are still checking in — hard to tell.’

He also said that it was likely fewer people were using the app than the figures suggested, saying: ‘My guess would be that there are some people who still check-in wherever they can, so they would check-in more than once a week, and many more that never do it at all.’

Professor McConway said he has the app, and actually bought a new phone because of it as his old one could not scan QR codes on posters. He said he hadn’t been asked to use it in months, adding: ‘Though they might well still be displaying the QR posters somewhere, they could be hidden in some dusty corner.’ 

NHS Test and Trace publishes weekly figures on how many check-ins have been recorded on their Covid app, and breaks these down by local authorities. The latest data is up to October 27.

In Manchester use of the app has fallen from 170,000 at the peak in June, to just 951 in the latest week — which is 179 times lower. In Wandsworth, it is down from 136,000 to 876 — 156 times lower.

Rounding out the top five areas where app use has dropped the most are Rotherham, in South Yorkshire, where check-ins fell from 68,500 at the peak to just 450 now and Lincoln where scans using the app fell from 60,499 to 404 — both are the equivalent of a 150-fold drop in usage. 

Use of the app has fallen in all of England’s 315 local authorities by at least 95 per cent. 

The area with the smallest drop was Peterborough, but even here the app’s use had dropped from 47,983 check-ins at the peak to 2,302 in the latest week — down 20 times.

It was followed by the Isles of Scilly, where scans have dipped from 944 in June to 32 in the latest week — down 30 times — and the Forest of Dean where they’ve dropped from 16,096 to 530 — also down 30 times. 

The above graph shows the number of times the app has been downloaded in England and Wales. At present there are 28.6million downloads, although it is not clear how many people have since deleted or deactivated the app

The above graph shows the number of times the app has been downloaded in England and Wales. At present there are 28.6million downloads, although it is not clear how many people have since deleted or deactivated the app

In a further sign of declining use of the device, figures showed less than a quarter of positive Covid tests were actually linked to the app in the latest week.

People are encouraged to input their results into the app so it can send alerts to anyone they may have recently been close to, in order to advise them they have been infected and should isolate.

But they are not legally obligated to do this — even at the height of the ‘pingdemic’ when many were forced into self-isolation by the app.

There were 69,274 positive tests entered into the app in the week to October 27, despite more than 260,000 Covid infections reported over the same period — equivalent to a quarter of infections being submitted.

But at the peak almost half of infections were reported to the app during the July wave, with 145,000 reports in the week to July 21 out of some 300,000 cases spotted over this week. 

The NHS app — heralded as a way to halt the spread of the virus — uses Bluetooth to estimate how close a user has been to a Covid positive patient and for how long.

This information allows it to determine whether someone is at risk of catching the virus and if they should self-isolate.

Everyone who gets alerted is advised to self-isolate for up to ten days, depending on when they came into contact with an infected person.

Self-isolation alerts are sent to everyone considered to be at risk, even if they have had both doses of the vaccine or a negative test. 

The NHS Covid app was launched as a flagship device to help prevent the spread of the virus in September.

It has been downloaded more than 28.6million times in England and Wales since — or by almost half of adults. But there are no figures available on how many people have deleted or deactivated the device.

People began scrubbing it from their phones in droves in July, ahead of ‘Freedom Day’. 

Ministers announced in August that the app would be tweaked to be less sensitive, so that it only alerted close contacts of people from up to two days before they tested positive. Previously, it had trawled through five day’s of users data to send out quarantine alerts.

But people in England have instead ‘voted with their phones’ and chosen to throw off the app rather than be bound by its alerts. 

A UK Health Security Agency spokesman said: ‘The NHS Covid app has prevented thousands of cases and is a vital tool to help protect against the spread of Covid by alerting people when they may have been in contact with a confirmed case.

‘The app is an essential part of the pandemic response, helping to protect your loved ones and reducing the spread of coronavirus. We encourage everyone to continue using it as another tool to help keep us all safe.’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.