MS Risk Blog

UK “Pingdemic” Causes Labor Shortages

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Businesses across the country are complaining of serious staff shortages that are affecting services. The government produced the National Health Service (NHS) Covid app to alert those who have come in contact with someone who has since tested positive for coronavirus and advises them to self-isolate for 10 days. However, this backfired when 618,903 alerts were sent between 8 and 15 of July, a 17% rise from the week before.

If you spend enough time close to another person, who also has the app, and who later tested positive for coronavirus you will receive a “ping” alert. The app uses the Bluetooth signal to determine whether your phone had been within 2 meters of theirs for at least 15 minutes. If you are pinged you are strongly advised, but not legally obligated, to self-isolate for 10 days. The number of COVID-19 cases reported in the UK has been rising in recent weeks. As a result, so has the number of people being pinged.

Although this advisement is not law and individuals are able to decide whether or not to self-isolate, many are following the suggestion. The “pingdemic” as it’s been called, has produced huge disruptions for businesses and critical services that threaten to undermine the efforts to revive an economy that is struggling because the pandemic. Supermarkets have warned that they may have product shortages due to staff self-isolating. Meanwhile, dozens of councils have suspended bin collections due to staff shortages, the fuel provider BP have needed to temporarily close a handful of sites over staff absences, and Royal Mail has announced delays to deliveries in 10 parts of England. Many businesses are worried that the situation could become even worse now that social distancing rules have been scrapped. The suspected boom to the hospitality sector is under threat as businesses are having to close or adjust hours based on how many workers are available. The transport network is also at risk of the consequences of staff absences. The Rail, Maritime, and Transport union said the closure of the popular Metropolitan Line on the London Underground network was closed due to key staff self-isolating on July 17.

People are questioning why those who have received both vaccination jabs or recovered from the virus need to self-isolate. Many flaws are being spot lighted over current self-isolating requirements. Over the course of the month contact alerts sent to NHS app users continually increased. This has caused many workers to delete the app because they cannot afford to miss work. As stated before, people can ignore the messages without any legal reciprocations and those in favor of the app believe that even if someone ignores the suggestion to self-isolate, knowing they came in contact with the virus is likely to affect their behavior. In response, the government has allowed key workers to opt-out of self-isolating and instead take daily coronavirus tests. Although an improvement, industries feel the definition for which workers are key workers are too narrow given the complexities of the supply line.

For businesses struggling to deal with the impact of the past year it is evident that a different approach is needed. The government still insists the app is doing the job for which it was designed, put pressure will continue to rise from business owners and workers to allow people to work, particularly when such individuals are fully vaccinated. The rules around self-isolation are set to change on August 16. From this date, those who have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days or are under 18 will not have to self-isolate if the come into contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. Instead, they will be advised to take a PCR test. Although there is an end in sight, businesses are beginning to consider the admin burden of figuring out, on a case-by-case basis, who has been vaccinated and who must isolate if they have been pinged.