More than half a million people in England were pinged by the NHS Test and Trace app in a week, the highest figure recorded.
A total of 520,194 alerts were sent to users of the NHS COVID-19 app in the week to July 7, telling them they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus and to self-isolate.
This is up from 356,677 the previous week – a rise of 46% – and is the highest weekly figure since data was first published in January.
It comes as some companies are reportedly missing 20% of their workers.
Factories across Britain are in danger of closing down as a result of employees being “pinged” by the app, union Unite warned.
The union said large numbers of workers are being told to self-isolate, with companies in the automotive industry particularly affected.
This morning Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the government is “concerned” about the number of people off work due to being “pinged” by the app.
Mr Jenrick told LBC radio today: “It is important that we have the app, that we take it seriously, that when we do get those messages we act accordingly.”
But he said ministers would give “further thought” on how the government can ensure it is a “proportionate response”.
He added: “We are concerned about absences as a result of being pinged, for example. That is one of the reasons why we do need to move to a more proportionate approach.”
Mr Jenrick was forced to defend the government’s handling of COVID-19 rules, branded a “total shambles”.
He insisted the nation is moving into a “new phase” where “we all exercise our personal judgement”.
Now might be a good time to reset the way app works
The huge jump in numbers will concern the government.
Boris Johnson keeps pointing to the success of the vaccine rollout and the protection it offers. But he cannot afford to disregard the steep rise in the number of people being pinged by the NHS app.
We know infection rates are rising so we expect more people be alerted by the app. There was much talk last week that Health Secretary Sajid Javid had asked for the app’s sensitivity to be looked at following pressure from employers and businesses warning of severe staff shortages.
Now might be a good time to reset the way app works. It is based on proximity and duration: it calculates risk based on how close you were to someone and for how long. It does not know if these two contacts are vaccinated, standing back to back or in a well-ventilated area.
But reports in some of the papers today suggest the government is rowing back on changing the sensitivity right now as case numbers continue to surge. It is still one of the the best ways to gauge the growth in infections.
Next month the rules will change meaning double jabbed people will no longer be asked to self isolate. But that is still a number of weeks away.
We are likely to see a surge in infections in the coming days as the ‘football effect’ kicks in. The scenes of fans gathering to enjoy the Euros worried many epidemiologists.
And next week all restrictions in England will be lifted driving infections up even further and faster.
But Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said it is “difficult” for people in England to know exactly what is required of them.
And he urged Westminster to follow a four-nation approach.
“It is the UK government that is the outlier and if they were prepared to bring themselves into line with the decisions that have been made in Scotland and in Wales, for example, that would be clearer and simpler for everybody,” Mr Drakeford told Good Morning Britain.
The TUC slammed the official guidance as a “recipe for chaos and rising infections”.
And shop workers union Usdaw described it as a “real mess”, offering no assurances for employees or customers.
Meanwhile Dr Roger Barker, policy director at the Institute of Directors, said firms are “understandably confused” by the government’s “mixed messages and patchwork requirements”.
Headteacher to refuse Ofsted inspection after death of fellow principal Ruth Perry
A headteacher says she will refuse an Ofsted inspection following the death of fellow principal Ruth Perry.
Ms Perry, who was head at Caversham Primary School in Reading, killed herself in January while waiting for an Ofsted report which gave her school the lowest possible rating, her family said.
Flora Cooper, executive headteacher of John Rankin School in nearby Newbury, announced she would be “taking the stand” against Ofsted by preventing them from inspecting the school on Tuesday morning.
Tweeting her plans, Ms Cooper said: “I’ve just had the call. I’ve refused entry. This is an interesting phone call. Doing this for everyone for our school staff everywhere!”
She added: “We have to do this! I’m taking the stand!”
Earlier in the day, Ms Cooper urged “everyone” to come to the school on Tuesday to support her – but she later told people not to turn up.
She tweeted: “Please can people not come to school now in the morning. I have to protect our children, our staff and our community.”
Sky News understands Ofsted is in contact with the school to try to resolve the situation.
Calls to boycott Ofsted
At least two unions have called on Ofsted to pause inspections – the National Education Union (NEU) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “Ofsted should pause all its inspections and reflect upon the unmanageable and counter-productive stress they cause for school leaders, and the impact on leaders.
“That they are phoning leaders this week and initiating inspections speaks to the arrogance of Ofsted and their absolute lack of empathy.
“This is an agency that is completely out of touch, and which is making claims and judgements which are unreliable. This can’t go on.”
Caversham Primary had previously been rated outstanding but an Ofsted inspection in November 2022 found leadership and management issues related to “safeguarding”, causing the rating to plummet – every other category was deemed good.
Ms Perry’s sister, Julia Waters, said in a Facebook post that schools should “boycott Ofsted until a full and independent review has been conducted”.
It comes after she said in a BBC interview that her sibling had experienced the “worst day of her life” when inspectors had reviewed the school.
Ms Perry had been a former pupil of Caversham Primary and Ms Waters said the inspection destroyed 32 years of her vocation and “preyed on her mind until she couldn’t take it anymore”.
She added: “Ruth took her own life on January 8, all during that process every time I spoke to her, she would talk about the countdown.
“I remember her clearly one day saying ’52 days and counting’, every day she had this weight on her shoulders hanging over her and she wasn’t officially allowed to talk to her family.
“I remember the very first day I saw her, rather than just speaking to her on the phone, a couple of days after the end of the Ofsted inspection, she came, she was an absolute shadow of her former self.”
School and staff find Ofsted inspections ‘very traumatic’
Geoff Barton of the Association of School and College Leaders said: “Many school and college leaders and their staff find inspections and Ofsted judgements very traumatic, and this is often damaging to their wellbeing.
“This case has brought matters to a head and something has to change. We will be discussing this with Ofsted as a matter of urgency.”
Matthew Purves, Ofsted regional director for the South East, said: “We were deeply saddened by Ruth Perry’s tragic death. Our thoughts remain with Mrs Perry’s family, friends and everyone in the Caversham Primary School community.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “It is a legal requirement for schools and nurseries to be inspected by Ofsted and they have a legal duty to carry out those inspections.
“Inspections are hugely important as they hold schools to account for their educational standards and parents greatly rely on the ratings to give them confidence in choosing the right school for their child.
“We offer our deep condolences to the family and friends of Ruth Perry following her tragic death and are continuing to provide support to Caversham Primary School at this difficult time.”
Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK
Reece Rodger: Police search for missing man who vanished on camping trip
Police are “extremely concerned” over the disappearance of a man who went missing during a camping trip in Perthshire.
Reece Rodger, 28, was last seen in the Kinloch Rannoch area at around 11.30pm on Saturday night.
He was camping on the north shore of Loch Rannoch with friends, who believed he had gone to bed.
However, there was no trace of Mr Rodger on Sunday morning and he was reported missing, Police Scotland said.
Sergeant James Longden, of Pitlochry Police Station, said: “We are extremely concerned for his safety as he is not dressed for the cold weather and he is not familiar with the area.
“Searches and enquiries are ongoing to trace him as soon as possible to ensure that he is safe and well.”
Mr Rodger, from Fife, is around 6ft tall and of medium build with dark hair. When last seen he was wearing a black t-shirt, black jogging bottoms and wellington boots.
Sergeant Longden added: “I would urge anyone who has seen Reece, or who has any information on his whereabouts to contact police.
“I would also ask anyone living in the local area to please check their outbuildings or sheds in case he has taken shelter there.”
Rich polluting countries like UK must ‘fast forward’ net zero target by a decade, demands UN chief
In a controversial move, the United Nations chief is today calling on polluting developed countries like the UK to “fast forward” net zero targets by a decade to 2040, warning the “climate time bomb is ticking”.
It comes as the most comprehensive review yet of the state of climate change delivers a bleak picture of humanity’s failure to tackle it, warning the window to secure a “liveable and sustainable future” is “rapidly closing”.
But climate scientists have rallied to point out there are still grounds for hope.
Today’s report from the United Nations’ IPCC is the culmination of eight years of work by hundreds of the world’s leading climate scientists, summarising six underlying reports.
The final sign-off by all governments was repeatedly pushed back amid a battle between rich and developing countries over emissions targets and financial aid to vulnerable nations.
The last similar report in 2014 paved the way for the ambitious Paris Agreement the following year.
The next of its kind won’t arrive until 2030, making this effectively the last collective warning and action plan from scientists while the 1.5°C warming is still in reach – though only just.
Key findings of the IPCC report
- Human activity has “unequivocally” warmed the planet by 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels.
- Emissions must fall 48% by 2030 – the first time such a bold target has been signed off in a global political document.
- Climate risks make things like pandemics or conflicts worse.
- Emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure alone would blow the agreed 1.5°C warming target, unless they are captured via still risky technology.
- Global sea levels have already risen by 20cm on average.
- At least 3.3 billion people are “highly vulnerable” to impacts including “acute food insecurity” and water stress.
- Extreme heat is already killing people in every region.
- Vulnerable communities who have historically contributed the least are disproportionately affected.
‘Hope not despair’
In the year since the last report in this series, the world has suffered violent flooding in Pakistan, drought across the northern hemisphere and a hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa – all of which were made worse by climate change.
But amid the bleak warnings of lost jobs, homes, crops and lives, scientists insisted there were still grounds for hope.
IPCC chair Professor Hoesung Lee painted a picture of a “liveable sustainable future for all” – though only if we “act now.”
“We should feel considerable anxiety,” said Professor Emily Shuckburgh from Cambridge University, who recently co-authored a book on climate change with King Charles, but was not involved with this report.
“But hope, rather than despair,” she added, highlighting that the IPCC said it’s still possible to limit warming to the agreed safer threshold of 1.5°C.
UN’s latest climate warning channels Hollywood
The report says changes in how we eat, travel, heat our homes and use the land can all cut climate-heating gases, while reducing air pollution, improving health and boosting jobs.
And there is enough global capital to rapidly slash climate-heating pollution.
“Not despair, but not just hope, because there is a lot of work to do,” said Dr Friederike Otto, a member of the core writing team and senior lecturer at Imperial College London.
“But we don’t need any new magic invention that we have to do research on for the next 30 years or so. We have the knowledge… But we also need to implement this.”
‘The wolf is at the door’
But because the window to act is “rapidly closing,” the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will today attempt to heap pressure on rich nations to make up for lost time.
In 2018 the IPCC loudly warned of the “unprecedented scale of the challenge required to keep warming to 1.5°C”.
Five years later, that challenge is “even greater” due to a failure to cut emissions enough, it said.
“Leaders of developed countries must commit to reaching net zero as close as possible to 2040,” Mr Guterres is expected to say shortly.
“This can be done,” he will add in an address to launch the report, which he calls “a how-to guide to defuse the climate time bomb”.
Mohamed Adow, director of thinktank Power Shift Africa, said it was “only fair that Guterres is setting more ambitious goals for wealthier countries who can make the transition more quickly and who have got rich off the back of burning fossil fuels”.
But the proposal may spark some backlash for apparently moving the goalposts. Countries are already struggling to meet the previously agreed target of net zero by 2050.
Asked about the proposed date change, a UK government spokesperson said: “Today’s report makes clear that nations around the world must work towards far more ambitious climate commitments.”
Britain is currently off track to get its emissions to net zero even by 2050, according to an independent assessment last week, and the recent budget was criticised for falling short on climate policies.
Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said: “Forget distant tropical islands and future generations – we have already seen what 40°C summers and flash flooding look like here in the UK. The wolf is at the door.”
Fossil fuel battleground at COP28
The COP28 climate summit will take place in the United Arab Emirates in December.
The findings of the latest IPCC report are supposed to inform those climate negotiations in Dubai.
This year’s summit is seen as particularly important, taking a “global stocktake” of how countries have progressed since the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Observers pointed out that every government had signed off on the scientific conclusions released today, which include the call for a “substantial reduction in fossil fuel use”.
The necessary approval process by all nations is designed to ensure governments act on the contents.
Yet some countries resist that language in other forums such as the more political COP climate summits, with oil and gas states last year blocking a pledge to “phase down all fossil fuels” from the final agreement at COP27 in Egypt.
“By signing off the IPCC reports all governments, even those of high-emitting countries such as Saudi Arabia, Australia, the US and the UAE, acknowledge that climate change is a real and present danger,” said Richard Black from energy thinktank ECIU.
The UN will hope there is similar agreement in December – which needs to result in meaningful action.
Watch the Daily Climate Show at 3.30pm Monday to Friday, and The Climate Show with Tom Heap on Saturday and Sunday at 3.30pm and 7.30pm.
All on Sky News, on the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.
The show investigates how global warming is changing our landscape and highlights solutions to the crisis.
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