Pingdemic paralysis: Food chains, police dragged into the crisis

Pingdemic paralysis: Food chains, police and railway signalling staff are dragged into the crisis caused by self-isolation rules

  • Gregs and Nandos are among the food chains thrown into chaos by pingdemic
  • McDonalds has cut down hours and in some branches is only serving drive thru 
  • Some 618,903 people were pinged, told to self-isolate, in the week to July 14 
  • Eateries, bars, and shops across the country have been shuttered by the crisis

National food chains yesterday joined the growing number of employers dragged into the pingdemic crisis.

Pret a Manger, Nando’s, Greggs and McDonald’s are all suffering extra staffing problems caused by the NHS self-isolation policies.

Sandwich chain Pret has shut 17 outlets, Greggs is shuffling staff between some sites to keep them open and Nando’s has closed at least one restaurant.

McDonald’s is cutting hours and services across large parts of the country, such as removing eat in and takeaways in favour of drive-thru only.

The problem has been exacerbated by a wider staffing crisis across the hospitality sector which is causing problems for national pub chains and the likes of Burger King and KFC.

All are struggling to fill rotas as thousands of workers have been ordered to self-isolate for up to ten days after being pinged by the NHS Covid app or contacted by the Test and Trace service. 

Some 618,903 were pinged in the week to July 14. The total number in home quarantine has been estimated at 1.7million.

Some 618,903 were pinged in the week to July 14. The total number in home quarantine has been estimated at 1.7million

Other self-isolation problems are being experienced by the police, railway companies and local councils,

Yesterday Andrew Opie of the British Retail Consortium said: ‘The ongoing pingdemic is putting increasing pressure on retailers’ ability to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked.

‘Government needs to act fast. Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double-vaccinated or can show a negative Covid test, to ensure there is no disruption to the public’s ability to get food and other goods.

‘With community cases soaring, the number of healthy retail staff having to self-isolate is rising fast, disrupting retail operations.’

The Co-op spoke for all the major supermarkets, when it said: ‘We are sorry that we are running low on some products. Like many retailers, we are impacted by some patchy disruption to our deliveries and store operations but we are working closely with our suppliers to get restocked quickly.’

Tony Goodger of the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers said: ‘It has been reported to us by one member, who supplies care homes and the NHS, that he is 31 per cent down on staff. 

That makes it almost impossible to work. I have been in the food industry for over 30 years and this is the first time I have heard nearly all of the supermarkets say we have a problem.’

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said ministers are concerned about shortages, but he attempted to play down the seriousness of the situation. I don’t want people to get the impression that every shelf in every supermarket is bare. That’s not the case,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘But we are certainly concerned about incidents of shortages and looking at the supply chains of critical industries. We are reviewing that situation.’ 

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said ministers are concerned about shortages, but he attempted to play down the seriousness of the situation

Elsewhere, more than a third of the Dorset Police control room staff were reported to be off work because they either have the virus, symptoms or have been pinged.

And Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland, Steve Turner, warned that call response times will rise due to self-isolating staff in his force. He said Cleveland Police has had to cancel rest days and annual leave for some officers, as well as bringing in others from different shifts to fill rota gaps.

Some mainline railway signal locations are at ‘critical levels’ in terms of staff shortages due to the pingdemic, a union leader has warned. 

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘We know that there are four of five very important signal locations on the mainline that are at critical levels – there is one location where 17 signallers have been told to isolate. We had a massive problem in Manchester over the weekend and it will grow no doubt.’

Bin rounds are also being cancelled across the country leaving rotting rubbish to bake in the heat. Councils from Blackpool to Berkshire are cutting, reducing or delaying their collections. 

We’ve had to put our French diner on ice 

After more than a year of one form of lockdown or another, loyal customers of French fine dining restaurant Pascal at the Old Vicarage had begun to flock back and the business was booming again.

But all that changed with a series of pings which sent owners husband and wife Pascal and Karen Arnoux into isolation for ten days with the majority of their 20 staff – even though not one has tested positive. 

Despite extensive outside dining space, social distancing and the use of masks, it meant the restaurant in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, is now mothballed until next Wednesday. Mr Arnoux, 61, said: ‘None of us has even had symptoms, it’s just so frustrating.

‘If my wife or I had tested positive, or one of the staff had, it would be a different matter.’ 

He added: ‘We’ve gone through so much stress during the pandemic to get to this point, so having to call customers up and ask them to move their reservations to another date is the last thing we need. 

‘The last few weeks have been like Christmas, it’s been so busy. So this is costing us thousands and thousands of pounds.’

A series of pings sent owners husband and wife Pascal and Karen Arnoux, pictured, into isolation for ten days with the majority of their 20 staff – even though not one has tested positive.

After more than a year of one form of lockdown or another, loyal customers of French fine dining restaurant Pascal at the Old Vicarage had begun to flock back and the business was booming again

With pandemic restrictions eased and diners attracted to its extensive outside tables, Whinstone View bistro in Great Ayton, North Yorkshire, has been ‘super-busy’ for weeks.

But the Covid app put paid to that. ‘Within the space of a few days, five of our young staff were told to self-isolate,’ said Jackie Wray, co-owner with her sister Amanda. ‘We could cope with that as we employ 60 people. But then when one of our chefs had to isolate as well, that really put a spanner in the works.’ 

Miss Wray, whose family has run the venue since 1978, said: ‘The Government has got to find a way to allow staff who have been in contact with a positive case to carry on working as long as they test negative.’

They were forced to prioritise its programme of weddings – now in peak season with four a week at the venue’s converted barn – and stop serving lunches.

She said: ‘We can seat up to 100 people outside but we’ve had to prioritise the weddings we’ve booked in above everything else.’ It is costing the bistro around £5,000 a week, but recruitment difficulties have left no choice.  

With pandemic restrictions eased and diners attracted to its extensive outside tables, Whinstone View bistro in Great Ayton, North Yorkshire, has been ‘super-busy’ for weeks

Magic store’s in a spell of trouble 

The Potions Cauldron – a ‘magical drinks emporium for wizards of all ages’ – has been delighting Harry Potter fans for years.

But the impact of the NHS Covid app on owner Phil Pinder’s 22 mainly youthful workers has been massive.

He has been forced to reduce opening hours at the shop – located at number 9¾ on York’s historic Shambles.

And he is now telling staff they can continue working after being pinged if they want to as long as they provided a negative PCR test.

This is because it is not a legal requirement to follow the alerts. Mr Pinder, 44, said: ‘We’ve had seven staff being pinged by the app in a couple of months… We have a popular bookable session where people can make their own potions, but we’ve had to cancel that altogether. That alone has cost us as much as £3,000.’

The shop – which is just two metres wide – has a screen over the counter and allows only one group in at a time.

Mr Pinder said he had lost faith in the app. ‘One employee was pinged when he was already self-isolating,’ he said.

‘He lives in a studio flat so it can only have been one of his neighbours. [The app’s] just too sensitive. Staff who are pinged need to be allowed to stay at work… especially if they’re double-vaccinated.’

The Potions Cauldron – a ‘magical drinks emporium for wizards of all ages’ – has been delighting Harry Potter fans for years. But the impact of the NHS Covid app on owner Phil Pinder’s 22 mainly youthful workers has been massive

It’s a real grind for my coffee empire…   

Craig Bunting runs a string of five independent coffee shops with his business partner Michael Thorley.

The pair were forced to close two of their busiest stores, Bear, in Derby, last weekend after 20 staff across both were ‘pinged’ by Test and Trace.

Although Mr Bunting managed to juggle his workforce to get one restaurant, in Iron Gate, back open by Monday, the other, in the busy Derbion shopping centre will remain shut until next Wednesday, costing thousands in revenue.

‘It was just awful,’ Mr Bunting, a married father-of-two, said.

‘Staff in Derby were getting pinged one after the other, we were running a pop-up coffee shop at Silverstone for the Grand Prix, so we were already depleted because some of our staff were also down there.

‘We didn’t have time to get a team in place so had no choice but to close both stores – it wiped out half of our sales.’ Mr Bunting said the Government ‘need to do something with test and release.’

‘I am self-isolating because I was a close contact of someone with Covid, but I haven’t been told to isolate, I’m just doing the right thing,’ he added. 

‘My issue is I’ve had a negative PCR and multiple negative lateral flow tests, so why can’t I go out. I know I could be much more use to my team if I could leave the house… It is worrying. I’ve got 100 people who I am responsible for. If it all falls apart, it impacts on them.’

Craig Bunting runs a string of five independent coffee shops with his business partner Michael Thorley. The pair were forced to close two of their busiest stores, Bear, in Derby, last weekend after 20 staff across both were ‘pinged’ by Test and Trace

Although Mr Bunting managed to juggle his workforce to get one restaurant, in Iron Gate, back open by Monday, the other, in the busy Derbion shopping centre will remain shut until next Wednesday, costing thousands in revenue

Final cut for barbers 

The boss of a chain of barbers that has closed two sites after staff were pinged branded the NHS app a ‘joke’.

Karl Foster, 47, whose MR. Barbers business operates across north London, East Anglia and Cheshire, said workers had been sent home in Stowmarket, Suffolk, and Diss in Norfolk. He added: ‘The ping thing is a bit of a joke.

‘We’re still having to pay rent and we’re not getting any Government help.’

Tom Old, 31, who runs the closed premises, called for the app to be adjusted.

The boss of a chain of barbers that has closed two sites after staff were pinged branded the NHS app a ‘joke’

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