The NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app will be axed next month after usage declined dramatically since the height of the pandemic.

Millions of users of the app, one of the last vestiges of Covid architecture, were notified on Tuesday that it will close down on 27 April.

The app was blamed for the “pingdemic” of summer 2021 but research estimates it saved the lives of more than 9,000 people and prevented 44,000 hospitalisations and a million cases.

Ministers and public health officials have decided that Covid can be managed in the same way as any other viral infection and that widespread vaccination, infection-related immunity and treatments means that far fewer people suffer serious illness from the virus.

At its peak, the app was downloaded 16 million times in October 2020, and total downloads during the whole pandemic reached 31 million.

The app alerted people if they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid.

In the summer of 2021, when most Covid restrictions were lifted and people began to return to pre-pandemic contact at work and in their social lives, the app sparked the so-called “pingdemic” because so many people were told to self-isolate – triggering staff shortages in key sectors such as transport and supermarkets.

Professor Steven Riley, director general of data, analytics and surveillance at UK Health Security Agency, said: “The NHS Covid-19 app was a vital tool during the pandemic, estimated to have prevented around one million cases, 44,000 hospitalisations and 9,600 people dying during its first year alone.

“We thank all our users and the teams that developed and ran the app. The knowledge, technology and lessons learnt will be used to help inform our planning and response to a wide range of future pandemic threats.”

The UK government moved to a new phase of “living with covid” in February 2022 and lifted all restrictions.

But critics have warned that removing Covid-related infrastructure leaves the country exposed if a dangerous new variant which makes vaccines and prior immunity less effective, emerges.

Scientists at the University of Oxford and the University of Warwick have estimated that the app prevented around one million cases, 44,000 hospitalisations and 9,600 people dying during its first year alone.

The UKHSA said the app had proven the value of rapid digital contact tracing as an intervention against “fast-moving respiratory pathogens”, meaning the technology is likely to be deployed if there is another pandemic.

The app was launched as a trial on the Isle of Wight in August 2020. When it was rolled out nationally in September 2020, there were more than 13 million downloads in the first week.

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