The Speaker
Saturday, 18 May 2024 – 10:56

UK’s ‘pingdemic’ worsening, with increasing impact on businesses and key services

The ‘pingdemic’ situation is worsening and becoming of increasing concern to businesses in the UK as more and more staff are being told to self-isolate.

Increasing numbers of people are being told to self-isolate by the NHS COVID-19 app and Test & Trace after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. Cases of the virus have been rising rapidly in the UK recently and are currently at their highest levels for months.

Around 40,000 new cases of the virus have been reported in the UK every day this week, and it is anticipated that the easing of coronavirus restrictions earlier this week will see the daily number of cases climb even higher. 

According to the latest figures, a record 618,903 people in England and Wales were pinged by the NHS app and told to self-isolate in the week ending 14 July – while many thousands will have also been pinged since then.

Concern is understood to be growing in Government regarding the situation, with fears that key services could be severely affected. Currently, the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary, the Chancellor and a number of officials are self-isolating, while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is also isolating.

Businesses have also been expressing growing concern, with Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Iceland among those supermarkets speaking out about the situation. A number of retailers have had to close stores or reduce their opening hours due to staff self-isolating, while others are urging customers not to stockpile supplies or panic buy, with some products currently in short supply in stores.

BP has had to close some of its sites due to fuel shortages, partly due to staff self-isolating. Transport services across the country have also been affected, with some services cancelled due to a shortage of available staff. Meanwhile, police and NHS response times have been slower – issues are also present in hospitality and other sectors, forcing some businesses to shut.

Some have criticised the NHS COVID-19 app, suggesting it is too sensitive, though others have said that the app is simply doing its job, with large numbers being told to isolate as a result of the growing number of infections.

The Government is facing a difficult situation, with the current ‘pingdemic’ impacting the economy and access to important services. While the mandatory requirements for face coverings and social distancing were removed in England earlier this week, some have argued mitigations and/or restrictions are needed now to try and reduce the number of infections and people being affected.

Next month, the country is due to move to a system whereby close contacts are tested for the virus instead of them having to isolate – though the tens of thousands of people contracting the virus will still have to isolate. 

A policy is also in place now exempting some people providing key services from isolating, though there has been some confusion over the eligibility for this scheme, which is thought to be limited.

There are additionally concerns that growing numbers of people are deleting the NHS COVID-19 app to avoid getting pinged and being told to isolate, which could lead to an even greater spread of infections. 

Vaccination efforts are continuing in the UK, though it is feared that many people who are double vaccinated are still contracting the virus, partly as a result of the strength of new variants. To date, around 69.1% of people in the UK have had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine.

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