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GSK tells UK staff to turn off NHS COVID-19 tracking app while at work

Published on 07/10/20 at 12:33pm

GlaxoSmithKline has told its employees to turn off the new NHS coronavirus tracking app at work as it could be disruptive to its business, according to The Guardian

GSK sent the instructions to its employees at its research and development labs and some of its manufacturing sites. It told them to switch off the contact tracing element of the app, which uses Bluetooth to detect other users nearby that have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. GSK also said that its measures to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus at its sites were so secure that the app was not needed in their workplaces. 

The company said that it has a strict policy of two metres social distancing and staff that operate in closer proximity have measures to ensure safety. GSK says this means that in these scenarios the app would not recognise the social distancing and prevention measures and would record a contact despite the risk being mitigated. 

The company told staff: “If one of the individuals were later to test positive, the contacts, in this case another site employee/s, could be asked to self-isolate, which may be both disruptive to the business but may also trigger a false positive into the NHS test-and-trace system. You can turn it back on when you leave the site.” 

Government guidance does say that there can be workplace exemptions for turning off the app, provided that the staff are protected by personal protective equipment or acrylic screens. However, GSK did not say why it would qualify as exempt. 

A spokesperson for GSK said they believe their policy complied with the government regulations, adding: “The safety of our employees is our highest priority, and we have put in place strict Covid protective measures at all our sites. Our pharmaceutical laboratories and manufacturing plants are highly-controlled environments and operate according to the highest COVID-19 security and protection protocols set out by the government.

“These environments are distinct from the everyday situations in which most people will use the NHS COVID-19 app, which is why we have issued some specific advice to employees working at these sites regarding the use of certain aspects of the app, while onsite. This is in line with government advice on how to use the app.”

The NHS COVID-19 app was finally released on 24 September after months of delays, and questions still linger over how effective it really is in stemming the spread of coronavirus.

Conor Kavanagh

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