‘Freedom Day’ is coming – but the NHS app ‘pings’ will have us all locked up at home anyway

I feel like I’m tip-toeing around now to make it through to the end of the school term without pinging

Victoria Richards
Friday 16 July 2021 10:36
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<p>People have started confessing they’ve deleted the app so they don’t ‘ping’, because they can’t bear to self-isolate</p>

People have started confessing they’ve deleted the app so they don’t ‘ping’, because they can’t bear to self-isolate

We’re no longer in a pandemic, but a “pingdemic”. Latest figures from the NHS show that more than 500,000 alerts were sent to users of the Covid-19 app in the week to 7 July – a rise of almost 50 per cent on the previous week and the highest figure so far. And when you ping, it only means one thing: 10 long days of self-isolation. “Freedom Day” on Tuesday won’t feel very “free” if you can’t leave the house.

But we better get used to it, because the chances are, if you’ve got a phone, you’ve either already pinged – or you’re about to. This is our new normal, now. In recent weeks I’ve pinged (twice), friends have pinged, family members have pinged.

At our local primary school in east London yesterday, the deputy head came into class (my daughter tells me) with a list of names of half a dozen children who are friends with a boy who has tested positive for Covid, and took them away: the equivalent of an in-person ping when you’re too young for a smartphone.

Unions have warned that UK factories are on the verge of shutting due to staff shortages caused by pings, and big companies such as Nissan and Rolls Royce have said production could be affected – and as for the kids who are missing the end of term because the school received a ping on their behalf, well, when you’re seven years old there’s not much that matters more than Sports Day, or the end-of-year summer party.

As one parent put it on Twitter: “Daughter’s Covid bubble has just popped. That’s it for this school year. No sports day, no celebrations, no proper goodbyes. Kids all weeping. I know it’s small, in the grand scheme, but for them it’s huge and I just feel dreadful for them all.”

In response, government ministers have discussed decreasing the sensitivity of the app – and health secretary Sajid Javid hinted that the test and trace isolation policy could be overhauled, as he stressed the need for a more “proportionate system”. Boris Johnson told a No 10 briefing last week that ministers were also looking at a “move to a different regime” for those who have been fully vaccinated.

But, as this Twitter user put it: the problem isn’t the pings themselves, but rising cases. “You fix the pings by keeping infection prevalence down. You don’t do that by burning down the regulations.”

And herin lies the real problem with “Freedom Day”: from Tuesday, we’ll be released into the wild, ready to live our lives the way we did before Covid – sort of. Except that we can’t, because we’re being urged to live in a state of cognitive dissonance – told to listen to the pings, but also (at the same time) forget all about the rising cases and warnings from experts who say dropping Covid restrictions in England could lead to a “significant third wave of hospitalisations and deaths”; to “doublethink” – in the way of Orwell’s 1984 – our way out of our concerns for the clinically vulnerable and to put our fears (and face masks) down; to stay at home and isolate, but also to go clubbing and shopping and to house parties.

And as for figures that show that the number of Covid patients in hospital is doubling every three weeks? We mustn’t pay too much attention to those, we are tacitly told; because they’re depressing. Focus on “freedom”, instead. But it’s hard to focus on freedom when you’re sitting staring at your own four walls, not knowing who, how close, or whether you in fact did come into any contact at all with someone with Covid.

It’s no wonder we are all a bit anxious. Nobody knows what’s going on, or when it will end. We are being told to think and feel and do everything, all at once: get out and help rebuild the economy; feel “free” – yet at the same time ignore the subconscious, murky fear of waiting for an alert that can (and probably will) go off at any moment.

People are worried about Covid, but also frustrated by the pings – that’s just another part of our collective dissonance. Some have started confessing they’ve deleted the app so they can’t ping at all – one friend told me she simply can’t afford to lose any more work. And when you read that, according to The Telegraph, you don’t even have to go outside to get pinged – neighbours are finding themselves being ordered to self-isolate for 10 days despite never coming into contact with a Covid-positive person, because the app’s Bluetooth signal is so strong – you can understand why people are fed up with the whole thing. “Freedom Day” is coming – but the app will have us all locked up at home anyway.

And so we find ourselves in a continued state of limbo, walking around with yet another burden on our shoulders: not just frightened of catching Covid, or of passing it on, but of our phones piping up to order us to stay at home. There’s not much we can do about it, except accept the likelihood of a ping, and sighing, and getting on board with it all. Personally, I’ve been tip-toeing around, on tenterhooks, praying to a God I don’t believe in that I don’t get pinged again. I want to see my kids through to the end of term: after that, we’ve got camping trips arranged; important fifth birthdays to celebrate. Can Covid please just ping off?

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