Teachers have been told to turn off or delete the NHS Covid-19 app by some school bosses worried about disruption and staff shortages.

It follows reports that pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and a fuel supplier company in Hull told their staff to turn off the app while at work, claiming it was unnecessary in their “Covid-secure” work environments.

The NHS Covid-19 app for England and Wales has been downloaded more than 16 million times since it was released two weeks ago.

The BBC report that teachers in schools around the country have been told “not to use the app ‘in school time’” while a teacher in the Midlands said it had been suggested to him and colleagues to “delete the app and ignore messages so [as] not to interfere [or] risk A-level resits”.

One source told the BBC: “Too many schools want to keep staff in, even if it means breaking the law. I am in a school with about 75-80% black African heritage intake, so our demographic is at very high risk.”

GSK tell staff to turn off the app at work

Earlier this week it was reported that GSK – who are working on developing a vaccine for the virus – instructed thousands of its staff to disable the contact-tracing app when at work in its research and development labs and some of its manufacturing sites.

The company claims it has “strict Covid protective measures at all out sites”, adding that some “are distinct from the everyday situations in which most people will use the NHS Covid-19 app”.

GSK said their labs and manufacturing plants are “highly controlled environments” operating “according to the highest Covid-19 security and protection protocols set out by the government”.

In a message to its staff, GSK said that “if our site assessment is followed, no close contact should be occurring” and that it had “implemented control measures to ensure safety” should there be instances when staff come into closer contact with each other.

The Guardian report that GSK staff were told: “You can turn it back on when you leave the site.”

‘A very blunt weapon’

Rix Petroleum – a Hull based firm – has also asked its staff not to use the app at work. Its managing director, Rory Clarke called it a “very blunt weapon” and said: “What I fear is that it’s going to ask people, possibly repeatedly, to self-isolate for up to 14 days when they are not sick.”

Clarke added: “I think there is a place for using the app, but not in the workplace where it takes no account of the measures that we’ve put in place to restrict transmission.”

The NHS Covid-19 app is designed to preserve anonymity and uses Bluetooth to log when two phones are in close proximity to each other for a significant period of time. If a person tests positive for the virus the app automatically informs the other person to self-isolate for 14 days.

It also allows people to scan QR-codes when visiting bars, restaurants and other venues and notifies people if they need to isolate if an outbreak is linked to their visit to the venue.

An official from the Department of Health said they want as many people as possible to download the app and added: “It is important to use the NHS Covid-19 app at all times unless in specific scenarios which are set out in our guidance.”

The official government guidance allows the app to be turned off at work when staff have their phones stored in lockers; are working behind screens; and, in healthcare when they are wearing PPE.