The call handler had phoned to check she was quarantining following her return from Italy (stock photo) (Image: NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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The so-called Covid 'pingdemic' will continue for four weeks, Downing Street declared today despite desperate pleas from business chiefs to change the rules.

Boris Johnson's spokesman said there are no plans to bring forward the August 16 date at which children and double-jabbed adults, after contact with a Covid sufferer, will no longer need to isolate in England.

Crucially, Downing Street also confirmed there are no plans to tweak the NHS Covid-19 app to make its contact tracing function less sensitive.

That is despite ministers previously suggesting that they might tweak the app.

However, it's thought Boris Johnson has been looking at more exemptions to isolation for some close contacts of Covid cases, depending on their line of work.

Last night NHS workers were given a limited exemption but industry chiefs are pushing for more exemptions for critical workers.

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Asked if the app could be tweaked, the PM's spokesman said: "The ONS has been finding that around a third of those self-isolating after contact with a positive case went on to develop symptoms.

"It’s doing what it’s designed to do – informing close contacts of a positive case that they’re at risk, and it’s advising them to isolate."

Asked to confirm that the government was not going to tweak the app's sensitivity he replied: "That's correct".

Latest figures showed more than 500,000 people in England and Wales were notified by the NHS app to self-isolate in the week up to July 1.

But experts say the numbers are simply showing the scale of a pandemic which is producing more than 50,000 new cases and more than 50 deaths every day in the UK.

Richard Walker, managing director of the supermarket group Iceland, said 4% of the workforce were absent at his firm and "a number of stores have had to close."

"We have got over 1,000 people absent due to Covid, that's the highest ever since testing began," he told the BBC.

Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King, said he believes current self-isolation rules need reformed after he was forced to shut some pubs or reduce opening hours.

"We had to close, in the last seven days, 33 pubs due to lack of staff because of self-isolation," he told the BBC.

This breaking news story is being updated.