GlaxoSmithKline tells staff to turn off contact-tracing app at work

LONDON – U.K.-based drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has told around 2,500 staff in Britain to turn off a Covid-19 contact-tracing app while at work.

The pharmaceutical giant, which is working on a coronavirus vaccine, ordered employees at research and development labs and manufacturing facilities to switch off the Bluetooth contact-tracing feature that is built into the official Covid-19 app for England and Wales.

The news was first reported by The Guardian newspaper on Tuesday.

The app is seen as an integral part of the government’s test and trace program. It sends an alert to to users if they have spent more than 15 minutes within 2 meters of someone who has tested positive with the coronavirus.

GSK, which employs about 16,000 people across the U.K., said the safety of its employees is the company’s highest priority, adding it has “strict protective measures” at all its 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,” a GSK spokesperson said in a statement emailed to CNBC.

“Employees who have chosen to download the app should continue to use it in the normal way when they are not working in these highly-controlled, Covid-secure environments.”

The firm said its approach was in line with government advice on how to use the app, which has been developed by the National Health Service and downloaded by 16 million people.

All GSK staff were being told to keep two meters apart while working and some were also provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) and glass shields to work behind.

The Department of Health and Social Care did not immediately respond to CNBC on Wednesday, but a spokesperson told The Guardian: “We want as many people to download and use the app as possible and it is important to use the NHS Covid-19 app at all times unless in specific scenarios which are set out in our guidance.”

GSK isn’t the only company with reservations about the contact-tracing feature in the NHS app.

Rix Petroleum, which is based in Hull, a port city in northeast England, told BBC News it had asked staff to turn off Bluetooth on their phones. Rory Clarke, the company’s managing director, described the contact-tracing feature as a “blunt weapon.”

“Large numbers of people who are not sick will be made to stay off – or it will be suggested that they should stay off – for 14 days,” he said.

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