Government must scrap pinging NHS Covid-19 app once pandemic eases,says Information Commissioner

The UK’s privacy tsar has today called for the Government to scrap the NHS Covid-19 app once the pandemic eases – as she vowed ‘we’ll be watching its evolution very carefully’.

In a stern warning, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said ministers must ‘decommission’ the app once its use is over and avoid developing it into a more permanent feature of British life.

Ministers had initially wanted to build a version of the app that would collect anonymised data on users on a single large NHS database – a plan which was dropped after switching over to a version built by Apple and Google.

But, vowing to keep tabs on ‘mission creep’, Ms Denham said the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) would continue to closely scrutinise the app’s evolution.

And she said her office would not hesitate to take action if the Government ‘overreached’ and the app strayed from its contact-tracing function.

It comes as the app continues to spark ‘pingdemic’ chaos across Britain, forcing tube lines to shut and prompting the Government to announce emergency measures in a bid to keep food supplies reaching supermarkets.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Ms Denham said: ‘We will be watching the evolution of the app very carefully. 

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham (pictured) said ministers must avoid evolving the app into a more permanent feature of British life

Vowing to keep tabs on 'function creep', Ms Denham said the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) would watch the app's (pictured) evolution 'very carefully'

Vowing to keep tabs on ‘function creep’, Ms Denham said the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) would watch the app’s (pictured) evolution ‘very carefully’

Pingdemic has put nearly one in FIVE Met Police officers off duty – as crisis causes chaos at border checkpoints, on public transport and for food delivery 

Nearly one in five Metropolitan Police officers are currently absent from duty after being forced to self isolate amid pingdemic chaos.

Around 17 per cent of the forces’ officers are currently self isolating, the highest since the start of the pandemic.

Police were made exempt from self isolation on Thursday, but only if their employers specified their names and they were double-jabbed against Covid-19.

Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation Ken Marsh said the force was ‘massively struggling’.

‘We are not performing the role properly. We were not offered the jab and now we have got almost one in five officers off sick or self-isolating.

‘It is coming home to roost and the Government is going to come unstuck,’ he told the Telegraph.

The government on Thursday published a list of exemptions for key workers in energy, waste, water, and food supply and production.

Police, border officers, train and lorry drivers were added to the list on Friday night.

Workers who avoid self isolation after contact with someone who has Covid will instead be tested daily, allowing them to keep working provided the tests remain negative.

The Government on Saturday said in a statement that an expected initial extra 200 testing sites would be opened so that daily contact testing could be ‘rolled out to further critical workplaces in England’.

‘My modus operandi has always been how can we help government get this right and build in privacy to these innovations.

‘At the end of the day, if there is a contravention of the law with the app or overreach in its use then we will take action.’

She added: ‘The focus of our office will be how it is used next, how else is it going to be used and how it will be decommissioned when it is no longer necessary.’

Ms Denham, whose term as Information Commissioner comes to an end in October, also said British people were ‘very suspicious’ of schemes that resemble must-carry ID cards.

Speaking about the idea of vaccine passports, after Boris Johnson announced earlier this week that Britons must be double-jabbed to enter night clubs from September, she said: ‘You have seen the UK public being very suspicious of the use of ID cards.

‘The questions we have to ask ourselves are: is it fair? Is it proportionate? And is it necessary.’    

Her comments come as industry bosses today warned how an emergency plan to tackle the impact of the ‘pingdemic’ on the UK’s food supply network has been an ‘absolute disaster’ and has done ‘more harm than good’.

Food industry leaders claim they are yet to receive further details from the Government about which workers will be allowed to skip isolation rules if they are ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid-19 app.

They also say hundreds of businesses which are to be allowed to take part in the scheme have not yet been briefed on the full details.

It comes after the Government bowed to growing pressure from the industry by allowing a key-worker exemption for food supply chain workers.

Instead of being forced straight into isolation when ‘pinged’, food supply chain workers, along with a handful of other key workers, will instead be allowed to take part in daily testing.

Up to 10,000 staff, from across 500 different sites, are expected to qualify for the scheme. However supermarket workers are not included. Testing sites are due to be set up at 15 ‘crucial’ supermarket depots as of Monday.

The move came after it was revealed how more than a million adults across the UK have been forced into isolation in the last week – 600,000 of which have been ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid-19 app.

The Government's emergency plan to tackle the pingdemic's impact on the food supply industry has been an 'absolute disaster' and has done more harm than good, industry bosses have today claimed. Pictured: A shopper walks past a row of empty shelves in ASDA Cardiff on Friday)

The Government’s emergency plan to tackle the pingdemic’s impact on the food supply industry has been an ‘absolute disaster’ and has done more harm than good, industry bosses have today claimed. Pictured: A shopper walks past a row of empty shelves in ASDA Cardiff on Friday)

The sheer number of workers being forced into isolation – even if they never end up having Covid – has sparked fears of a disruption to the food supply chain and empty supermarket shelves in some areas.

But plans by ministers to fix the issue have today come under fire by industry leaders, who have criticised the Government over a ‘lack of communication’.

James Bielby, of the Federation of Wholesale Distribution (FWD), which supplies food to outlets other than supermarkets, told the Observer that the industry still had no idea who is on the list of exempted groups.

He also said that of the 500 businesses supposedly included, only 3 per cent had actually been notified.

Mr Bielby told the paper: ‘It’s total chaos. There are 15 businesses who were part of the initial run through [of the scheme] on Friday, but there’s supposed to be 500 businesses in total, it’s entirely opaque.’

Meanwhile, Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, the organisation representing companies that move frozen and chilled foods, said: ‘Several days after the prime minister told us the food supply chain was critical and would be exempt, we still don’t have a definitive list of who will be exempt and what is required of them. 

James Bielby, of the Federation of Wholesale Distribution (FWD), which supplies food to outlets other than supermarkets, told the Observer that the industry still had no idea who was actually on the list of exempted groups

James Bielby, of the Federation of Wholesale Distribution (FWD), which supplies food to outlets other than supermarkets, told the Observer that the industry still had no idea who was actually on the list of exempted groups

‘Businesses are fighting to keep food on shelves, and I regret that despite the best intentions in some places, government has done more harm than good.’  

It comes as frontline businesses and services paralysed by pingdemic chaos will get access to 200 new testing sites from Monday. 

The Government on Saturday said in a statement that an expected initial extra 200 testing sites would be opened so that daily contact testing could be ‘rolled out to further critical workplaces in England’. 

But it came as it was claimed the system causing the problem could not be stopped – because there is not enough testing capacity to allow the ‘test and release’ method to take over.

The chaotic situation sparked harsh words from some sectors over the lack of clarity from the authorities. 

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, added: ‘We desperately need this detail and need it quickly.

‘The last we heard, communication could be coming on Monday, so we have a long weekend to get through yet. We need a sense of urgency here.’ 

Richard Harrow, chief executive of the Frozen Food Federation, said: ‘The Government announcement last night that parts of the supply chain will be allowed to test and release workers that are pinged by Track and Trace only goes part of the way.

‘It shows that yet again Government does not understand how connected the food supply chain is.

Only opening part is unlikely to solve the overall issue. Plus, who is in and who is out, who decides and how do they decide?

‘Confusion continues to pervade and I have been advised no list until Monday. This is worse than useless.’

Taxpayers will pay the price of Covid pandemic for ‘decades’ to come – and government wasted £2billion on ‘useless’ PPE, report shows 

By Laurence Dollimore for MailOnline

Taxpayers will pay the price of Covid for decades to come with the cost of Government measures already surpassing £370 billion, MPs have warned.  

It comes as two reports from the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) released on Sunday slammed the Government’s spending on unusable personal protective equipment (PPE).

The reports also warned that an inquiry into the pandemic and its handling by the government – expected next year – will not come quick enough to learn the lessons needed.

The PAC said the taxpayer would be exposed to ‘significant financial risks for decades to come’ – putting the Covid bill to date at £372 billion.

The committee also ‘remains concerned that despite spending over £10 billion on supplies, the PPE stockpile is not fit for purpose’.

It added that as of May this year, out of 32 billion items of PPE ordered by the Department of Health and Social Care, some 11 billion had been distributed, while 12.6 billion remain in storage.

Meanwhile some 8.4 billion on order from other parts of the world have still not arrived to Britain.

The UK debt pile hit £2.2trillion last month - the highest relative to GDP since 1961 - but borrowing started to ease as the economy recovered.

The UK debt pile hit £2.2trillion last month – the highest relative to GDP since 1961 – but borrowing started to ease as the economy recovered. 

But MPs were concerned the stockpile was costing around £6.7 million a week to store, with potential waste levels ‘unacceptably high’.

The report said there were 10,000 shipping containers of PPE still to be unpacked by May this year, but 2.1 billion items of PPE had already been found unsuitable for use in medical settings.

The committee said this cost more than £2 billion of taxpayers’ money and over five times the estimate of PPE unfit for purpose given to MPs by the DHSC in January of this year.

For the excess PPE that was suitable for medical use, the MPs were concerned that the Government is yet to create any robust plans for repurposing and distributing this essential stock in a way which ensures value for money and protects staff and patients.

Dame Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, said: ‘With eye-watering sums of money spent on Covid measures so far, the Government needs to be clear, now, how this will be managed going forward, and over what period of time.

‘The ongoing risk to the taxpayer will run for 20 years on things like arts and culture recovery loans, let alone the other new risks that departments across Government must quickly learn to manage.’

A promised public inquiry into the pandemic is not expected to start until spring next year, and will likely be long-running.

The PAC report said it was ‘clear that Government cannot wait for the review before learning important lessons’ and must instead present a Covid recovery plan in the autumn spending review.

Dame Meg added: ‘If coronavirus is with us for a long time, the financial hangover could leave future generations with a big headache.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: ‘There are robust processes in place to ensure that government spending always provides value for money for the taxpayer.

‘We have worked tirelessly to source life-saving PPE to protect health and care staff, and we have delivered over 12.7 billion items to the frontline at record speed.’

But Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the cross-party report is more evidence of the Tories’ failures during the pandemic that she says ‘resulted in tens of thousands of avoidable deaths and saw eye-watering sums of taxpayers’ money wasted on unsafe PPE and contracts handed out to their mates’.

‘We cannot wait until next year for the public inquiry to start and ministers cannot kick it into the long grass and cover up their failures by refusing to hand over information hidden in personal email accounts,’ she added.

‘The public inquiry must start immediately and the inquiry must have full access to all ministerial correspondence, contracts and documents, including all government business carried out on personal email accounts.’

It comes as pressure mounted on the government this week to go further in creating exemptions for certain sectors when it comes to employees having to self-isolate after receiving a ping from the Covid app. 

Underlining the threat this earlier this week, closely-watched PMI figures suggested the economy has drastically slowed down this month - with managers blaming shortages of workers and raw materials

Underlining the threat this earlier this week, closely-watched PMI figures suggested the economy has drastically slowed down this month – with managers blaming shortages of workers and raw materials

PMI figures suggested the economy has drastically slowed down this month – with managers blaming absence of workers and shortages of raw materials. Although the index indicated growth continuing, the reading was the lowest since the lockdown started easing in March.

Industry groups complained that the exemption scheme showed ministers did not ‘understand how connected the food supply chain is’ and were ‘worse than useless’ because there is no clarity about who will be covered. Councils said services were at risk from the wave of self-isolation and train timetables are also being cut back.

The UK Hospitality body demanded a ‘more pragmatic solution’, saying even people who are not vaccinated should be able to take tests and keep working.

The row came as owners of some of the country’s largest producers including the UK’s ‘Chicken King’ revealed they are at ‘crisis point’ – with a lack of poultry and milk on supermarket shelves and warnings of the ‘most serious food shortages that this country has seen in over 75 years’.

 

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