Covid-19: Businesses forced to close as staff are told to isolate

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image source, Getty Images
image captionIn the first week of July, more than 500,000 people were "pinged" by the NHS Covid-19 Test and Trace app.

With most lockdown measures lifted in England, businesses might finally be expecting things to be returning to normal. But many have had to temporarily close after their staff were either "pinged" and told to isolate by the NHS Covid-19 Test and Trace app or contacted by NHS Test and Trace directly. How do owners feel about this latest blow to their livelihoods?

It has been dubbed the "pingdemic". Every day, thousands of people are receiving notifications from the NHS Covid-19 app, telling them that they have been in contact with someone with the virus and that they are advised - but not legally obliged - to self-isolate for 10 days.

In the first week of July, more than 500,000 people were "pinged", but it is not compulsory to have the app on your phone.

Those who have been in close contact with a positive Covid case can also be contacted directly by NHS Test and Trace - either by phone, text or email - and they must self-isolate by law.

While the app alerts are advisory, Downing Street has insisted it is "crucial" to self-isolate if you receive one, and that businesses should help employees to do so.

The clarification came after business minister Paul Scully encouraged people who were "pinged" to self-isolate, but said they could make an "informed decision".

Large firms including Vauxhall, Iceland and Greene King, as well as NHS trusts, are among those hit by staff shortages caused by people having to self-isolate - and many smaller businesses are affected, too.

'It's just so frustrating'

image source, Mike Bloomfield
image caption"We've got to do the right thing," says Mike Bloomfield

With half of its team isolating, Mrs Salisbury's Tea Rooms in Maldon, Essex is closed until Saturday.

Co-owner Mike Bloomfield says with five people, including himself, having to stay at home, there were not enough "to be able to run a good enough service for customers".

"Luckily everybody is negative [for Covid-19] and doing fine at the moment but we still have to do what we have to do and isolate," he says.

"What we don't want to do is risk more people getting pinged and for this to go on for longer, so we thought the best option for us would be just to close for the week.

"Hopefully we can open up again on Saturday, all being well and nobody gets any symptoms."

He says he is "gutted" but "not angry".

image source, Google
image captionMrs Salisbury's Tea Rooms in Maldon, Essex is closed until Saturday

"We've got to do the right thing for the health of both the staff and the customers, but it is really gutting because we were getting ready to open our summer garden," he says.

"[It] would have been the perfect time right now in this lovely weather so it's just frustrating."

'It would have been a banger'

image source, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks
image captionChristo Toffali has had to close Ye Olde Fighting Cocks after staff were told to isolate

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans dates back to AD793 and is reputed to be the the oldest pub in England, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

It has survived wars, plagues and economic crises, but the coronavirus pandemic has brought new challenges.

Last week it announced it was closing for 10 days after one staff member tested positive.

All staff were texted by NHS Test and Trace and have isolated as they had all worked with the person concerned.

Landlord Christo Toffali says: "Everyone is safe and well, we are just gutted at the timing.

"What a banger of a weekend it would have been after all the rain."

He adds that after a full Covid clean, the pub will reopen on Thursday.

"Ideally, we would like to open for lunchtime on Thursday but we can't get into the pub until Thursday morning as we have to make sure all of our staff have isolated for the full 10 days."

image source, Geograph/Roy Hughes
image captionYe Olde Fighting Cocks pub in St Albans has been forced to shut for 10 days

Mr Toffali adds that opening a pub within a few hours is a "challenge".

"Opening and closing pubs constantly because the government can't seem to adapt the right strategy costs thousands and thousands of pounds, and having been already closed for a year, it is money we simply can't afford to lose," he says.

"I am also fearful that we will have to close again before 16 August.

"The relaxation of rules [from Monday] will no doubt lead to an increase in cases, putting my staff more at risk of catching Covid and leading to the pub having to close again as we will all have to self-isolate for 10 days, leading to more financial losses, and putting my staff's health at risk again."

'It's a complete mess'

image source, Sean Hughes
image captionSean Hughes says 60% of staff at one of his pubs are isolating after being "pinged"

Sean Hughes, who owns The Boot, Dylans and The Plough pubs in St Albans says he has been forced to close one of his businesses due to one member of staff being contacted by NHS Test and Trace and others being pinged by the app.

"The Boot is currently closed due to staff shortages, with 60% of staff isolating due to being pinged," he says.

"We have reduced hours and closed the kitchen for most of this week until they can come back.

"All tests thus far showing negative on a daily basis. It is a complete mess."

image source, The Boot
image captionThe Boot in St Albans has had to close temporarily

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "While most restrictions are being lifted, it is still possible to catch and spread Covid-19 even if you are fully vaccinated, and we know regular testing and self-isolation of positive cases remain instrumental to reducing the spread of Covid-19.

"From 16 August, fully vaccinated adults and under-18s will no longer have to self-isolate if they are a close contact of someone with the virus and by waiting until this date to introduce this exemption we are allowing many more people to be fully vaccinated.

"In exceptional circumstances, double vaccinated health and social care workers who have been contact traced or advised to self-isolate by the NHS Covid-19 App may be permitted to go to work."

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