Government refuses to back down over pingdemic decimating businesses

Fears ‘pingdemic’ will Britain to its knees: Bosses warn factories will shut, some food could run out, hospitals cancel holidays and 1.6MILLION people in a week are told to isolate – but ministers still REFUSE to back down over app chaos

The NHS Covid app will not be scrapped despite creating a pingdemic that has left factories on the bring of closure and forced hospitals to ask medics to cancel holidays because of a chronic lack of staff.

Minister Lucy Frazer admitted today the Government recognises the ‘significant impact’ it is having, but said it remained an ‘important tool’ in the fight against Covid-19.

The Solicitor General’s comments came after more than half a million users in England and Wales received an alert in the seven days to July 7, the highest seven-day total since data was first published in January.

Analysis by the Guardian suggests that 1.6million people are currently self isolating, once children and those who actually have Covid are factored in. 

Last night a senior union leader said the epidemic of self-isolation could force factories to close from today. Unite’s Steve Bush told Newsnight: ‘I believe we’re hours not days or weeks away from our first temporary closure of sites.’

And the Meat Processors Association chief executive said abattoirs would have to  ‘rationalise’ product lines, stopping those requiring the most butchery, in order to keep food on shelves.

Nick Allen told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We were struggling with skilled labour anyway, and now on top of this you have got them being pinged and told to stay at home for 10 days. 

‘So it’s quite a critical point and it is not really a numbers game. It’s if you get critical people in the production line pinged and having to stay at home that can cause as much of a problem as sheer numbers.’

But Ms Frazer said firms would have to wait until August 16 for the isolation requirement to go.   

‘It (the app) is an important tool because it is important that you do isolate if you do come into contact (with a positive case), but I know this is something the Government is looking at,’ she told Sky News.

‘In addition to the changes in mid-August, the Government is also carrying out a number of pilots to see whether instead of isolating when you get pinged, you could take a test.

‘The Government is looking at this very carefully, recognising the significant impact this is having on businesses.’

In other developments: 

  • Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick admitted No10 was ‘concerned’ about the number of people who may have to self-isolate because of the app;
  • Official figures released today show the contact-tracing app sent out 520,000 self-isolation alerts last week; 
  • Councils raised concerns over bin collections after Leeds, Bristol and Rochdale were forced to leave resident’s rubbish on the curbside after the app forced workers to stay at home;
  • Official figures revealed that as few as 30 per cent of adults have been double-jabbed in inner cities;  
  • Ministers were urged to get a grip on the Covid travel test fiasco that has led to lengthy delays and appalling service.

It came as health bosses in Sunderland asked staff to postpone holidays as the trust came ‘under extreme pressure’ due to a surge in coronavirus cases. 

Minister Lucy Frazer admitted today the Government recognises the ‘significant impact’ it is having, but said it remained an ‘important tool’ in the fight against Covid-19 .

NHS England data showed a record 520,000 alerts were sent by the app last week, telling people they had been in close contact with someone who tested positive

And the number of alerts sent out in relation to venues also more than doubled in seven days

Charlotte Crook had been at home in Middleton, Greater Manchester, following the rules after a positive coronavirus test when police arrived in a ‘riot van’.

Officers came to her home the next evening in what the family said was a riot van, prompting a ‘meltdown’ from the bewildered schoolgirl

Hospital asks staff to postpone holidays 

Health bosses in Sunderland have asked staff to postpone holidays as the trust came ‘under extreme pressure’ due to a surge in coronavirus cases.

Staff at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust – dealing with one of the highest infection rates in the country – are seeing hospital cases doubling week-on-week.

In an internal note to staff earlier this week, bosses said there were 80 Covid-19 patients receiving hospital treatment compared with just two exactly a month before.

The message started: ‘The Trust is currently under extreme pressure due to a surge in Covid-19 cases.

‘Many people are seriously ill and receiving intensive care support.’

The surge in cases and rapid spread in the community meant the trust has had to ask for staff’s help, the memo said.

It asked for staff to work additional shifts, with a £250 bonus for staff who could work an extra week of overtime spread over the next six weeks.

They were told they would need to be flexible and might need to work outside their normal area.

And they were asked: ‘If you are due to take annual leave but feel able to postpone this to help support the Trust’s Covid-19 response, please talk to your line manager ASAP.’

Those staff who can work from home were urged to do so, reducing footfall at trust sites.

The note also urged staff to look after themselves and each other.

It stated: ‘Thank you all for your continued hard work and incredible support to keep our patients safe.

‘It certainly feels like we are entering a very difficult period, especially after the long slog of the past year.’

Staff at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust – dealing with one of the highest infection rates in the country – are seeing hospital cases doubling week-on-week.

In an internal note to staff earlier this week, bosses said there were 80 Covid-19 patients receiving hospital treatment compared with just two exactly a month before

Business leaders have warned the ‘pingdemic’ was causing chaos for families, firms and hospitals and demanded changes on the NHS Covid-19 app to avoid a ‘self-inflicted economic wound’.    

NHS chiefs have also warned the system was making it ‘increasingly difficult’ to deliver routine care and said hospitals were now scrapping operations because so many workers were having to self isolate. 

Nearly 900,000 alerts telling people to quarantine were issued in the first week of this month following contact with a coronavirus victim.      

But rising numbers of people being forced into self-isolation has led unions to warn that factories across the country are on the ‘verge of shutting’ down.

It came as it was revealed a terrified 12-year-old girl hid behind her mother – afraid she was going to be arrested – when police turned up in numbers at her home to check that she was self-isolating.

Charlotte Crook had been at home following the rules after a positive coronavirus test and her shocked mother Kathryn yesterday branded the police response ‘overkill’.

Officers came to her home in what the family said was a riot van, prompting a ‘meltdown’ from the bewildered schoolgirl. 

Throughout the pandemic, police have faced accusations of heavy-handedness in enforcing Covid restrictions.

Up to 900 workers at car giant Nissan’s flagship plant in Sunderland are being made to self-isolate after they were pinged by the app, it was claimed today. 

And the National Care Association said care homes had ‘real staffing issues’ because of the app.

Bin rounds were also missed this week in Sutton Coldfield because of outbreaks of Covid and some hospital trusts have had up to 500 staff isolating at a time, forcing them to close beds and cancel operations.

Meanwhile the chief executive of Rolls-Royce, Torsten Muller-Otvos, said the car maker was on the ‘edge of a critical situation’ and a complete shutdown could not be ruled out.

Thousands of ministers and government officials are escaping self-isolation thanks to a pilot scheme that amounts to a ‘get out of jail free card’, it was revealed.

The Cabinet Office, Border Force and Transport for London are among the bodies signed up to a trial that replaces quarantine with daily testing – meaning they can continue working after being ‘pinged’ for close contact with a positive case.

Michael Gove used the arrangements to avoid self-isolating when he returned from watching the Champions’ League final in Porto in May.

Several Downing Street staff have benefited from the pilot, instead being able to take daily lateral flow tests to check whether they have the virus. They can carry on duties as normal unless they develop symptoms, but must still isolate when not at work.

According to the Telegraph, some politicians have likened the scheme – which is apparently in place in businesses in utilities, manufacturing and retail – to the famous Monopoly card.

Nadhim Zahawi highlighted at the weekend that daily testing could replace self-isolation more widely in future. However, the news will raise questions about whether ministers and civil servants are getting preferential treatment when hundreds of thousands of healthy members of the public are being forced into house arrest. 

He told The Daily Telegraph: ‘Cases have gone through the roof and it is causing havoc.’   

Elsewhere, Chris Hopson, of NHS Providers, said: ‘Trust leaders continue to share serious concerns about rising levels of staff isolation, which are now significantly impacting on their ability to deliver care.’ 

This week, health secretary Sajid Javid warned daily Covid infections were likely to top 100,000 after restrictions are lifted on Monday. That could force around half a million a day to self-isolate. 

Sparate data from Test and Trace showed infections surged by 43 per cent last week after another 194,005 people tested positive for the virus. And Britain today recorded another 48,553 Covid cases in the biggest daily surge since January. 

People told to isolate by the app are under no legal requirement to do so because their identity is not tracked by the software. 

But fears have been raised that the software could cripple the nation’s already fragile economy this summer when restrictions are completely lifted. 

Businesses demanding a re-think of the rules have warned supermarket shelves may be left empty if tens of thousands of workers are told they must self-isolate in the coming weeks. 

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: ‘No one is advocating for Covid controls to go out the window and Unite’s number one priority remain the health and safety of our members.

‘But the reports Unite is receiving from our members and their employers are extremely worrying.

‘It is not an exaggeration to say factories are on the verge of shutting and that at some sites hundreds of staff are off work.’  

And councils have raised concerns over bin collections after Leeds, Bristol and Rochdale were forced to leave resident’s rubbish on the curbside after the app forced workers to stay at home.

Liverpool Council yesterday confirmed bin collection would be cancelled for two weeks in parts of the city. 

Cabinet member for neighbourhoods Abdul Qadir said: ‘Unfortunately due to Covid guidelines on isolation our refuse service team is severely depleted, and we need to prioritise our waste collections.

‘Our current programme is clearly not sustainable when one in four staff are unavailable to work.

‘We know the temporary suspension of collecting garden waste will be an inconvenience but it will allow us to ensure general waste and alleyway cleansing is kept to schedule.

‘Our recycling centres are also open late in the summer so residents have an option if they feel they can’t wait for the next green bin cycle.

‘After 19 July, the isolation guidelines change for those who have been double jabbed and this two week delay will give us time to re-organise the teams to ensure we can get back on track at the start of August.’ 

Businesses reveal ‘pingdemic headache’ as their operations are hit by self-isolating staff due to app pings

Factories are now on the verge of shutting and small businesses have already been forced to close because so many workers are having to self isolate across Britain.

Nearly 900,000 alerts telling people to quarantine were issued in the first week of this month after contact with a coronavirus victim in the so-called ‘pingdemic’.

It is causing chaos for families and firms, prompting business leaders to demand changes on the NHS Covid-19 app to avoid a ‘self-inflicted economic wound’.

In retail and hospitality a third of staff are off self-isolating in the worst-hit areas, forcing thousands of venues to shut. People are pinged by the NHS Covid app and told to self-isolate for ten days after coming into contact with an infected person.

There is no legal requirement to self-isolate if pinged by the app – however, it is illegal to disobey an order to self-isolate in a phone call from NHS Test and Trace.

Plans to make the NHS Covid app less sensitive, meaning fewer people would be pinged, have been delayed as concerns mount over rising infection rates.

Here, businesses around Britain reveal the problems caused by the ‘pingdemic’:

Charity boss says app pings are a ‘real headache’ and are costing it ‘additional time and money that we can ill afford’

Marie Peacock, chief executive at Yorkshire’s Brain Tumour Charity in Leeds

The boss of a brain tumour charity in West Yorkshire told MailOnline today how the ‘pingdemic’ was causing the organisation a ‘real headache’.

Marie Peacock, chief executive at Yorkshire’s Brain Tumour Charity in Leeds, said: ‘Our fundraising income has been decimated and we are just starting to see some opportunities to begin to bring in the money we need to keep our support going, and guess what? The pings are going bonkers.’

She said the charity was attending the Great Yorkshire Show over four days this week, but lost half of their planned staff and volunteer cover due to self-isolation, even though they were testing daily and were showing no signs of symptoms.’

Ms Peacock added: ‘I have had to move work and resources around, close our charity shop and try to cover the best way possible. 

‘It is costing the charity additional time and money that we can ill afford. I will always support and encourage my team to follow the advice, but have to admit the app has been deleted from my phone.’

‘I’m livid’, says brewery owner who has six of his pubs shut due to staff shortages as he blasts Test and Trace as a ‘joke’

William Lees-Jones, the owner of J.W. Lees

William Lees-Jones, the owner of J.W. Lees, a brewery and pub chain, currently has six of his 150 pubs shut because of staff shortages.

He said: ‘I’m livid. It is frustrating at a time when we’re trying to recover. It’s one thing after another. Test and Trace has been a joke since it launched.’

The Manchester-based chain which was founded in 1828 has 42 managed pubs, inns and hotels – and also lets a further 105 venues to its pub partners. 

At the start of July, Mr Lees-Jones said the number of his staff being asked to self-isolate by the NHS app had tripled in the previous few weeks from about 20 to more than 60. He said most were not ill or did not test positive for Covid-19.

Mr Lees-Jones has described Test and Trace as a ‘nightmare’ and is furious at how it appears hundreds of thousands of people are having to isolate despite not being ill. 

‘We’re on the edge of a critical situation’: Rolls-Royce chief warns of possible shutdown with cases having ‘gone through the roof’

Rolls-Royce boss Torsten Muller-Otvos

The chief executive of Rolls-Royce said the car maker was on the ‘edge of a critical situation’ after a large proportion of his UK staff were told to self-isolate.

Torsten Muller-Otvos said a complete shutdown of operations at its factories could not be ruled out, telling the Daily Telegraph: ‘Cases have gone through the roof and it is causing havoc.’

He refused to say how many of its staff had been pinged by the NHS Covid-19 app, but told how the company is now looking at having to combine staff from both shifts into a single shift.

It comes after the firm said it had been ‘religious’ about social distancing in its factories during the pandemic.

The company has more than 22,000 employees across seven sites in the UK, in Bristol, Rotherham, Birmingham, Derby, Nottingham, Washington in Tyne and Wear and Inchinnan in Scotland.

‘It’s a real problem’, says boss of shoe firm Timpson’s which has more than 100 staff in self-isolation due to the NHS app

Timpson’s founder Sir John Timpson

The Timpson’s shoe repairs business has been badly affected by the ‘pingdemic,’ with more than 100 staff forced to isolate by the Test and Trace app.

Sir John Timpson, founder and owner of the chain, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier this week: ‘We are 140 people down… many due to isolation, which is people who have got to be home to look after children or people forced to isolate due to the Test and Trace app.’

The firm, which also runs three gastro pubs and restaurants in north Wales, also lost around £10,000-a-day when one – the Oyster Catcher, in Anglesey – was forced to close for similar reasons.

Sir John added: ‘We have three busy pubs and, one of those on Anglesey, we had 24 people isolating. We had to shut the pub, costing us £10,000 a day in turn over, the pub was shut for 10 days, it’s a real problem.’

His son, James, apologised for ‘a dip in the level of service’ in their shops. ‘Like many schools and businesses, we are struggling because so many colleagues are isolating after being ‘pinged’ by Test and Trace,’ he said. ‘We also have 120 colleagues who have had to stay at home to care for children sent home from school.’

‘Up to 900 staff’ at Nissan plant in Sunderland are now self-isolating as car maker admits it is having to ‘adjust’ production

The Nissan car factory in Sunderland (file)

Car manufacturer Nissan is among the larger businesses hit by the ‘pingdemic’, with up to 900 staff at its plant in Sunderland said to be self-isolating.

The Japanese company, which employs 6,000 people at the major UK site, has had to make changes to how its factory is run due to the high number of employees being pinged by the app.

A Nissan spokesman said: ‘Production in certain areas of the plant has been adjusted as we manage a number of staff being required to self-isolate following close contact with Covid-19.

‘The wellbeing of our team is our number one priority and we remain confident in the rigorous safety controls we have on site.’

Now France could go on the RED list: Ministers consider expensive hotel quarantine for those returning in another nail in the coffin for summer holidays abroad

Ministers are considering whether to put France on the UK’s red travel list in what would be a massive blow for UK holidaymakers.

The move would force Brits returning from or transiting through the country into mandatory hotel quarantine on their return, even after July 19.

Scientists are currently reviewing data from across the channel amid a surge in the South African or beta variant of the disease.

France is currently on the UK amber list, meaning that from Monday, double-jabbed Brits would be allowed to holiday there without having to isolate on their return. 

But that would not apply to travel to red list countries, which currently include India, Pakistan, Brazil and Turkey.

The move would force Brits returning from or transiting through the country into mandatory hotel quarantine on their return, even after July 19. Pictured: La Bouillabaisse beach in San Tropez

France is currently on the UK amber list, meaning that from Monday, double-jabbed Brits would be allowed to holiday there without having to isolate on their return.

The summer holiday plans of thousands lie in ruins this morning, with people cancelling their planned trips to the Balearic Islands after they were axed from the green list while the cost of flights back from Ibiza, Majorca and Menorca soared nine-fold after last night’s announcement

The Telegraph reported that the move was discussed at a meeting this week that saw the Balearic Islands moved from the green to amber list.

Scientists have been ordered to take a ‘deep dive’ into data from France before such a serious decision can be taken.

A decision could be taken as early as Monday. But Boris Johnson has previously refused to red list France due to the high level of cross-Channel goods traffic that could potentially be disrupted.

Yesterday air industry bosses today blasted the Government’s ‘on and off again’ decision-making after Ibiza, Majorca and Menorca were axed from the green list, despite having lower Covid rates than the UK. 

The move by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to demote the Balearic Islands to the amber list of foreign destinations on Wednesday sparked fury from travel experts, MPs and holidaymakers. 

EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren accused ministers of a ‘double standard where (foreign) travel is treated differently to the domestic economy’. 

Pointing out that Covid cases in the UK are rising while most of Europe’s remain lower, he added: ‘We cannot understand why the Government is going to allow people to go to a nightclub – without a mask or social distancing – and yet is not comfortable with people going to the beaches of Europe, where the infection rates are lower than in the UK.’ 

Jet2 CEO Steve Heapy told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he did not understand the decision to axe the Balearic Islands from the green list – calling the move ‘disappointing’. 

Henry Smith, Tory chairman of the All-Party Future of Aviation Group, said the move is ‘creating huge uncertainty in the sector and for the millions of people desperate for a summer holiday’ as he slammed what he called on again, off again’ decision-making.

Speaking to MailOnline, he warned of a jobs bloodbath in the autumn, arguing that the move to strike popular holiday destinations off the so-called green list ‘is likely to create huge trouble for the industry, and could lead to significant unemployment in the coming weeks and months’. 

It came as it was revealed holidaymakers are facing a ‘shambolic’ lottery when choosing Government-approved coronavirus tests – with travellers telling of lengthy delays, appalling customer service and high prices.

A Daily Mail analysis of 15 firms found that, in some cases, true prices were up to three times more expensive than stated on the Government website. And one company even charged up to £525 for a single bespoke test service.

Dozens of firms were also attacked in customer reviews, with travellers demanding some be ‘shut down’ due to tests being delayed or not arriving at all.

At least four companies were only incorporated within the last 12 months, according to Companies House records, raising concerns about their suitability to meet growing demand. And two listed their headquarters as ‘virtual’ office spaces – meaning none of their staff are physically based there – in affluent areas of London and other cities.

Last night, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who sits on the Commons transport committee, described the Government’s traffic light system for travel as an ‘expensive mess’.

‘The UK Government maintains a hideously complex and expensive system of testing and quarantine, which is a nightmare for the public and a cash cow for unscrupulous testing companies,’ he said. ‘This is needlessly destroying thousands more British jobs in the travel sector.’

Currently, passengers arriving into England from amber countries must take a Covid-19 test before travel and book tests for days two and eight of a ten-day quarantine on arrival.

These rules will continue for arrivals not yet fully vaccinated. But, from Monday, double-jabbed Britons will only be required to take two tests – one pre-return and another post-arrival by day two – and will not have to quarantine.

Passengers travelling into the country from green list destinations must take a Covid test before travelling and then another on or before day two of arrival.

The Mail looked at private firms recommended by the Government offering ‘day two’ test kits. Prices range from a £2.49 ‘self-swab’ from 1010 Labs to a £525 test from Harley Street Dr, which is administered by a professional at a place of the customer’s choosing. 

Another firm, 123tests.co.uk, is listed as offering green list home testing kits for £26. The only ‘day two’ testing kits available yesterday were priced at £75.

And the company, which was only incorporated in February, has been blasted by customers with one review on Wednesday saying that a day two test had still not arrived by the eighth day of quarantine. ‘I don’t know how they are on a Government website but they should be taken off and shut down,’ the reviewer added.

Similarly, Expert Medicals, which offers a home testing kit for £28, was rated as ‘bad’ by 87 per cent of its Trustpilot reviews.

Tim Alderslade, CEO of trade body Airlines UK, has called on ministers to ‘get a grip’. And Labour transport spokesman Jim McMahon blasted the fiasco as ‘nothing short of shambolic’. He added: ‘People are having to fork out for seemingly substandard tests from private companies and the Transport Secretary appears to have no idea what is actually available.’

It comes amid further travel confusion for Croatia and Bulgaria, which will be upgraded to the green list from Monday. But yesterday the Foreign Office was still advising against ‘nonessential’ trips to both countries.

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