July 19th marked freedom day for much of the UK, signalling the long-awaited end of the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown restrictions.
Up until this point, the pandemic has resulted in three waves of lockdowns over the course of 18 months - disrupting schools and businesses alike, whilst putting a huge strain on the NHS.
However, more recently, further disorder is being caused for businesses as a result of the rising ‘pingdemic’ which is resulting in soaring staff absences. In a time when the UK economy is still attempting to recover from its worst recession since 1706, the second half of the year is going to be crucial for UK business survival.
What is the pingdemic?
The ‘pingdemic’ is a combination of two words, pandemic and ping. It is being used to refer to the National Health Services (NHS) Covid-19 app that has been introduced to help with contact tracing, helping people protect themselves and others against the Coronavirus.
When ‘pinged’ by the app, individuals are advised to self-isolate for a certain amount of time. The app calculates how long self isolation is needed, with a minimum of 10 days being required for people who have come into close contact with a confirmed Covid-19 case.
How many people have been ‘pinged’ to isolate so far?
The recent spread of the Delta virus across the UK has resulted in a record number of people coming into contact with Covid-19.
Despite the fact the app has been set up with the intention of protecting UK residents against these growing numbers of cases (36,389 confirmed cases July 23rd), concerns among businesses are rising.
From 8th July - 15th July, over 600,000 people using the app were sent self-isolation alerts.
Concerns for businesses:
Unlike phone calls from the UK Test & Trace team, app alerts are advisory and not enforceable by law. Despite this, the NHS recommendations are having huge impacts for businesses - causing staff shortages and affecting services being provided.
Business owners are now having to grapple with the predicament of finding a way to keep their businesses running, without putting staff at risk. As the UK reopens, entrepreneurs are facing difficulties in:
Rising numbers of staff being called for self-isolation
Ensuring employees are provided with a safe environment
Keeping customers' minds at ease that rules are being followed
Maintaining enough cash flow to keep business operations running
Which sectors are being affected by the ‘pandemic’?
Over 26 million app downloads have been reported so far, and with the recent end to social distancing rules, there are worries that even more workers will be advised to self-isolate as time goes on.
From 19th July, limits on social distancing (including the 1-metre rule) have been scrapped, and there are no longer caps on limits for indoor and outdoor gathering.
The pingdemic is currently causing issues across all sectors, but the industries reported to have taken the greatest hit so far are:
Transport: From temporary bus timetables to mainline railway signal locations reaching critical levels, the transport sector is suffering from extremely high levels of staff shortages. Last minute cancellations of trains and buses are creating a domino effect being felt across the country.
Councils: There has been a significant reduction in available drivers for local council garden waste collections up and down the UK. In some cities, collections have been suspended for up to 10 weeks.
Healthcare: Chris Hopson, leader of NHS Providers, has demanded the government comes to a solution. With rising numbers of Covid cases, as well as other illnesses to manage, staff isolations as a result of the app are impacting the NHS ability to deliver care.
Hospitality: The hospitality sector has taken a big hit and many pubs, restaurants and hotels have been forced to temporarily close after only recently reopening. Whole teams are being pinged and recommended to self-isolate at the same time.
Retail: Many shops in the retail sector have been forced to close stores or adjust their opening hours as a result of staff shortages. As well as reducing the number of shop floor sales assistants available, there have also been disruptions to deliveries resulting in lowered supplies.
Manufacturing & Logistics: It has been reported that more than ¾ of UK manufacturing businesses have been affected by test and trace, with some plants experiencing staff absences of up to 25%. Shortages of lorry drivers are also affecting logistics companies' abilities to fulfil demand and deliver supplies.
Exemption from self-isolation for some industries
On 22nd July the government bowed to pressure to release a list of sectors where workers could skip Covid isolation if they are pinged by the app. This included essential transport, food production and supplies, medicines and digital infrastructure.
The latest guidance only applies to those who have had two doses of the vaccine and are fully vaccinated.
People will still need to self-isolate if they have tested positive for Covid-19 and will be expected to remain in isolation when not carrying out their roles.
No changes currently planned for the NHS app
With more and more people getting ‘pinged’, there has been widespread concern in the app’s efficiency. However, scientists have advised that the app is in fact working correctly, and providing a clear indication of the increasingly worrying rates of infection.
Despite the growing controversy, a government spokesperson has recently confirmed that the app will not be tweaked as originally announced. This is due to the fact that 1 in 3 people pinged have reportedly developed Covid-19 symptoms.
The impact of Brexit
The ‘pingdemic’ appears to be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Britain’s already struggling supply chains, put under strain by Brexit. Many businesses are facing a shortage of foreign workers following Britain’s exit, with 1 in 4 companies reporting difficulty in hiring staff from the EU.
Six months into the post-Brexit rules, it appears as though small and medium sized UK businesses have taken the hardest hit as they continue to grapple with restrictive checks and red tape.
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