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.

More on Covid-19

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”.

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From Monday, the legal requirement to wear face masks indoors in England will end.

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”.

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