Police response times are ‘under strain’ as some forces deal with staffing shortages caused by the pingdemic, it has been suggested.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said that in some forces, functions such as control room operations are being hit by high numbers of absent staff, impacting their ability to respond quickly to calls.
Earlier, one police and crime commissioner warned the public that call response times will rise due to the pingdemic, where people are asked to self-isolate after coming into contact with a positive coronavirus case.
Steve Turner of Cleveland Police said the force has had to cancel rest days and annual leave for some officers, as well as bringing in others from different shifts, to fill gaps caused by staff having to quarantine after being close to someone with COVID-19.
It comes as a leading epidemiologist, who runs the ZOE COVID symptom study, claimed the NHS COVID app is no longer useful.
Professor Tim Spector told Sky News: “I think employers should tell their staff if they feel unwell, they have cold-like symptoms, then they stay away but I don’t think the app saying that someone might have passed them by in a supermarket is actually that useful anymore in the current state of the pandemic.”
He added: “It doesn’t seem to be appropriate at the moment… it seems to be overkill.”
And he went on: “I think employers have got to just use common sense.”
Prof Spector said experts are currently collecting evidence from those ‘pinged’ to see how many went on to contract coronavirus.
The results are expected in a few days but Prof Spector suspects it will show the app is “not effective and should be stopped”.
“Money and tests could be spent better elsewhere, that’s my gut feeling,” he added.
Currently, around 60,000 people per day are thought to be getting ‘pinged’ and asked to self-isolate for 10 days.
Politicians, business leaders and frontline professionals have raised alarm over the figure, which has created staffing shortages across different sectors.
Latest figures show over 500,000 people were pinged by the app – which is separate to the Test and Trace service – in the week up to 7 July, but there are fears this could increase significantly before double-jabbed people are allowed to skip isolation from 16 August.
These people will instead be asked to take a PCR test as soon as possible and to quarantine if they receive a positive result.
But there are fears that over the next month many services, like food production and emergency services, will be impacted.
The government has dismissed calls to change the sensitivity of the app, but has announced exemptions for a “small number” of fully vaccinated critical workers who are identified as close contacts of coronavirus cases.
Mr Turner called on the government to test healthy emergency workers daily so they will not automatically be taken off frontline duties.
He told the BBC: “We have got to provide a service. We suddenly find ourselves cancelling rest days and cancelling leave and bringing officers in from other shifts to cover where we have got the gaps.
“However, our call times will go up, we will miss some calls we would normally pick up because we have less resilience in the call centre and all of these things will have a knock-on effect for the Cleveland public.”
Frontline services are also dealing with an increase in demand created by the heatwave, restrictions being lifted and the school holidays.
An NPCC spokesman said: “Nationally, the police officer and staff absence rate is 7.3%. However, in some forces some functions, such as control rooms, are experiencing higher levels of absence.
“Absence rates in control rooms affect a police force’s ability to respond promptly to calls from the public, in particular emergency calls.
“Police forces affected are guiding the public on how to contact the police while they are under strain. We are engaging with government about how to best resolve this issue.”
On Monday evening, Boris Johnson reiterated that people have to accept that increasing numbers would be required to self-isolate “as a consequence of living with COVID”.
He added that the self-isolation policy is “one of the few shots we have got left in our locker” following the easing of restrictions.