Enterprise urges UK authorities to get management of ‘pingdemic’ confusion
Business on Tuesday called on the UK government to “get control” after ministers argued over advice on self-isolation and Downing Street refused to make a list of roles people could continue to work in, even if they did they were “pinged” by the NHS app.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that critical workers could avoid self-isolation with two stitches if, for example, they had “food, water, electricity, medication. . . the defense of the empire ”.
But Downing Street on Tuesday said employers would have to contact government agencies to request specific exemptions from the rules, dashing hopes for an exhaustive list. Only a “very small number of people” should bypass the process, it said.
Claire Walker, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said companies were “having trouble understanding the rules,” which seemed to be changing every hour. Companies needed “absolute clarity” as to which employees were eligible to avoid self-isolation, she said: “Companies urgently need the government to gain control and provide clear and unambiguous guidelines.”
A senior executive said officials on Tuesday indicated that if there were exceptions, they would take an “incredibly hard line” to minimize relief. “The mood could change if the shelves are empty over the weekend,” he warned.
Number 10 was previously forced to contradict two junior ministers who said staff could work even if they received a “ping” from the NHS app.
According to government regulations, those who sent an alert are not legally required to self-isolate unlike those who are called directly by the NHS Test and Trace contact tracking system after being named by someone positive for Covid-19 has been tested.
Investment Secretary Lord Gerry Grimstone told an employer that people were not under a “legal obligation” to follow the app’s instructions.
Paul Scully, another Secretary of Commerce, did the same thing later Tuesday morning. “The app is there to enable you to make informed decisions,” he told Times Radio. “Of course, it’s up to individuals and employers.”
Scully and Grimstone were almost instantly overridden by Number 10, who said that companies “should help employees isolate”.
Economy Secretary Paul Scully said the app existed to enable people to make “informed decisions” but it was overruled by number 10 © PA
Hundreds of thousands of workers stay at home after being contacted by the app, creating a labor shortage in several industrial sectors.
Craig Beaumont, Policy Chief at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “With last week’s workplace guidelines hastily rewritten for the night economy on Covid Passports with or without notice, companies should be the last thing they should face further chaos of conflicting advice about Test and Trace. ”
More than half a million people were contacted by the NHS last week – either directly or through the app – causing severe labor shortages in critical industries.
Samuel Tombs of consulting firm Pantheon Macroeconomics estimated that after including confirmed cases and considering the subsequent surge in infections, it was plausible that 1.77 million people – 2.7 percent of the population – would now isolate. Self-isolation would hurt both consumer demand and business operations, he said as he lowered his third-quarter growth forecast.
Business groups have increased calls on the government to bring forward the August 16 date, when people who have been given double vaccinations will no longer need to self-isolate, amid widespread warnings of shop and bar closures, food shortages, and disruptions in supply chains and critical industries.
Retailers are heavily advocating an approach that was used this year in a pilot project that would allow “pinged” employees to return to work after a negative lateral flow test result.
A survey by the Food and Drink Federation found that three-quarters of its members reported a shortage of drivers. Paul Reeve, a director of the trade organization ECA, which represents the engineering services sector, said the self-isolation requirement affects “all parts of the construction industry and its supply chain.”
Many local authorities have had to postpone waste collection or close recycling centers because staff self-isolated. There were disruptions in public transport, with London Underground lines suffering delays due to staff absenteeism related to Covid.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said many ambulance and acute hospital trusts are “under extreme pressure” due to a combination of “very high demand and very high staff absenteeism due to self-isolation”.
St Austell Brewery, which manages 40 pubs in the southwest, said four of its managed pubs have closed due to staff shortages.
The latest piece to be canceled after losing cast due to self-isolation is the production of The Browning Version by actor and director Kenneth Branagh.
Additional reporting from Jonathan Eley, Delphine Strauss, Gill Plimmer, Philip Georgiadis and Sarah Neville