For more than two years, the NHS COVID App dictated the lives of those living in the UK – it told us which counties were safe to travel into, who people could spend Christmas with, and how close the public could get to their loved ones.

But on Thursday, it is being switched off for the final time.

No more "getting pinged", or needing a bar code to enter a restaurant.

The app is estimated to have saved thousands of lives and stopped millions of infections but now the fight against the virus enters a new phase and it is no longer needed.

An upgrade to the app will take place from 10.30am on Thursday, telling users that the app is no longer in use. It is expected to take several hours to reach all mobile devices with the app.

Users who have not updated their app will receive further push notifications about the changes in the coming weeks.

The app will be taken off the App Store and Google Play on 16 May.

But while some may hail it as another step on the road to the end of the pandemic, for half a million clinically vulnerable people in the UK, COVID can still be life-threatening.

From tennis prodigy to long COVID sufferer

Three years ago, Tanysha Dissanayake was a tennis prodigy who played alongside Emma Radacanu in junior Wimbledon.

Then the COVID virus forced her into early retirement, and out of education: "It was stripped away from me overnight," she said.

At one point, her heart rate reached 150bpm when just walking up the stairs.

"I have come a long way since a year ago. A year ago I couldn’t even open my eyes to watch Netflix," Tanysha said.

"But in terms of my life, and my full recovery, I am still so far away from where I need to be."

The virus has left her unable to study, read and socialise and grieving the loss of her former, very active, life.

"I can’t walk more than 2m, I need my little brother to push me around in a wheelchair," she said.

"That was not a life I was ever prepared for. I was 19 and healthy."

‘I feel forgotten – people have moved on without me’

She is now worried about the disappearance of the official NHS COVID app and what it means for her to be able to interact in public.

"It scares me so much," she said, adding that she is terrified to catch the virus again, fearing it could set back her recovery by another year.

"I can understand needs and wants to move on from COVID, because it was a traumatic thing for everyone, but people are forgetting about it, and it’s being labelled as something that’s not dangerous at all," she said.

Now 21, she said she feels she is "stuck as a 19 year old".

It takes her up to a week to prepare to leave the house.

Tanysha added: "My life has been on hold for two years and people have moved on without me and I am still here."

‘I thought the app had already closed down’

Although hospital levels are not the same as they were during the peak of the pandemic, for patient Nicola Macarty, any new infection could kill her.

The 59-year-old got COVID for the second time last week and collapsed in the shower, unable to breathe.

"People are still very ill with COVID," she said, speaking from her hospital bed.

But she was unaware the app had still been operating until this point.

"I honestly thought the app had gone years ago," she said. "I didn’t realise the app was still there."

But for Imogen Dempsey, who is clinically extremely vulnerable, the end of the app feels like an effort to ignore the realities of the new phase of the pandemic.

"Everybody is tired and fed up and could do without having to talk about COVID anymore," she said.

"[But] for people like me, the fact that we still need to think about being so careful and our lives are still so much on hold, absolutely we’d like things to be different – but they’re not.

"COVID hasn’t gone away, and stopping recording it and trying to ignore it isn’t actually a public health strategy."

COVID wards still operating

Frimley Health still operates specific COVID wards, first introduced in 2020 in a bid to stop patients from spreading the infection around the hospital.

John Seymour, deputy medical director at Frimley Health, said: "Living with COVID is an acceptance it is here, it will always be here.

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"But we have a responsibility to continue providing healthcare."

He said people will "always come in with COVID, or problems related to COVID".

© Sky News 2023