More than 30,000 Scots disabled Covid tracing app in Christmas run up

Figures reveal 31,797 users of the Protect Scotland App switched it off from the weeks commencing October 4th to December 27th.

More than 30,000 Scots disabled Covid tracing app in Christmas run up Getty Images
The app notifies a person if they have been in close proximity to someone who had Covid-19 at time of contact.

More than 30,000 users disabled Scotland’s Covid contact tracing app in the run up to Christmas.

Figures obtained by STV News revealed 31,797 “active users” of the Protect Scotland App switched it off from the weeks commencing October 4 to December 27.

Despite having more than 2.4 million downloads, only 877,550 devices were actively using the app at the end of last year.

Latest figures from the Scottish Government on January 20 state that the most up to date active user figure is 873,590 – that’s 35,757 less users than at the start of October.

The app uses bluetooth to notify a person if they have been in close proximity to someone who had Covid-19 at time of contact.

The country saw coronavirus cases rise during October followed by fears of a more transmissible mutation discovered in South Africa in November.

The first cases of the Omicron variant in Scotland were traced back to a “single private event” held on November 20.

This followed the First Minister warning that new restrictions could not be ruled out.

During the same period as the dip in user activity, more than 50,000 notifications or ‘pings’ appeared on devices.

Some professionals working in healthcare and education were advised by bosses to turn off their app during work as it was causing staffing issues with so many being told to self-isolate.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP said: “The SNP’s failures on test and protect continue to mount up. Not only are they presiding over an overwhelmed system, they are simply not doing enough to encourage people to continue to use it.

“It is clear that many simply didn’t want to be caught up in the SNP’s strict self-isolation rules and miss out on Christmas so deleted the app altogether.

“If the SNP had listened sooner to Scottish Conservative calls for the isolation period to be cut to seven days, it’s likely fewer would have done so.”

A Freedom of Information request also found Scottish Government spending on the app nears £1m (£914,844) as of January 21, 2022.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We continue to review the need for digital tools to help suppress transmission of the virus and are confident the Protect Scotland app provides value for money.”

Officials told STV News, that the figures provided show active users by the device and may not be one citizen. As the app is anonymous it could be that one person has it turned on two or more devices.

They added: “It is not correct to correlate a drop in daily active users with a reduction in individual citizen usage in the run up to Christmas 2021. The number of daily active users demonstrates the number of unique devices that are active, and therefore not a count of individual citizen usage.

“The numbers can fluctuate based on a number of circumstances such as users pausing the app because they work in the NHS, the device being powered off or whether they have Bluetooth turned on.

“We’re confident the app is working effectively and it is playing an essential role in the Test and Protect system to help suppress virus transmission.

“Between the 1st and 25th of December 2021 a total of 51,118 downloads of the Protect Scotland app were recorded.”