More than 20,000 people have deregistered the Scottish Government’s Protect Scotland app in the last three months.
Figures obtained by STV News show a growing number of people have recently opted to de-register, with numbers rising month-on-month from April to July.
More than two million Scots have downloaded the coronavirus contact tracing app, which uses bluetooth technology to identify close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases.
But thousands of people are not opting to deactivate the app, which automatically asks them to isolate if they have been in close proximity with somebody who has tested positive for the virus.
In April, 2583 people deregistered the Protect Scotland app. A futher 4220 deregistered in May along with another 7168 in June.
The number of people who have deregistered this month so far (up to July 18) stands at 9010.
But the number of people no longer using the app is likely to be far higher. The Scottish Government only has figures for those who deregister the app, including NHS staff, and say it is not possible to know how many have deleted it.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Protect Scotland App is voluntary and can be deleted at any time by users and all users own their own data.
“If a user chooses to leave through the de-registration process within the app then this data will be recorded. No data will be recorded if a user does not complete the de-registration process.
“In June, 7168 people de-registered which is less than 0.37 per cent of the 1,969,571 people who had downloaded the app by the end of June 2021.
“To protect people’s confidentiality, the app is quite rightly anonymous and it is therefore not possible to determine the number of people who have deleted rather than deregistered.”
As Covid cases surged at the end of June and in early July, Test and Protect fell below the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) standard of having 80% of cases closed within 72 hours of an initial infection being confirmed.
The most recent figures, for the week ending July 11, showed the turnaround times had improved but fewer contacts were being identified per case than earlier in the pandemic.
Health secretary Humza Yousaf said the contact tracing system had come under “extreme pressure” due to the recent spike in cases.
But he denied claims from opposition parties that the system had “cut corners” in order to improve turnaround times.
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “People are deleting the app because they’re worried that even if they test negative for the virus they will still be forced to isolate repeatedly. For some this could mean struggling to put food on the table.
“Now that the vaccine is helping us to turn the tide against the virus, the Scottish Government should put in place a test and release system to allow those who are pinged by the app but test negative to go about their business.
“The Scottish Government also needs to make it far easier for people who are isolating to access financial support. That would mean people would be less likely to push the limits of the system.”
Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Annie Wells said the news that thousands of people are disabling the app “could mean many people who should be self-isolating are now not doing so”.
She said: “The SNP’s failures in relation to Test and Protect are continuing to mount up. It remains a critical tool in our fight against the virus but it is clear SNP ministers are still not stepping up to encourage people to continue to use it.
“It is clear thousands of people are concerned their lives will be turned upside down as a result of having to self-isolate.
“We cannot put the easing of all Covid restrictions at risk as a result of the failure of SNP ministers to fully resource Test and Protect in recent weeks.
“It is time for them to ensure that they remain on top of any transmission of the virus, rather than overseeing thousands deactivating the app.”
There has also been alarm among employers across the UK at the rising numbers of people off work after being “pinged” by Covid tracing apps and told to self-isolate because they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive.
The president of the Confederation of British Industry, Lord Bilimoria, said it was becoming “a really, really serious issue” and urged ministers to act.
“The cases have already crossed 50,000 a day. If they cross 100,000, instead of 500,000 people isolating we will go up to 4.5 (or) five million. So you are opening up on the one hand, you are closing on the other hand,” he said.
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