'Pingdemic' reality for hospitality businesses as staff told to isolate

Entertainment and hospitality bosses have been forced to close their doors over recent weeks, as increasing numbers of their staff members were 'pinged' by the NHS app.

By James Holt
Friday, 6th August 2021, 4:26 pm

Staff from the hospitality industry are among those that have been sent home in recent weeks and told to isolate for 10 days after being 'pinged' by the Track and Trace app.

But restaurant and entertainment bosses have faced increasing difficulty, with some being forced to close their businesses for days or even weeks due to last-minute staff shortages.

The news comes as a record 689,313 alerts were sent to users of the COVID-19 app in England and Wales in just seven days in the week up to July 21, prompting businesses across all sectors to complain about such high amounts of staff members being told to stay at home.

The Houghton Arms is among local pubs that had to close

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New Preston comedy club closes as staff 'pinged' and forced to isolate

At one Withnell pub, The Houghton Arms, 13 out of 20 staff members were forced into isolation after being told they had come into contact with someone who had Covid-19.

The Chorley Road venue had no option but to close its doors for 10 days, during a time that assistant manager Nicky Robinson described as "frustrating", before reopening again on August 3.

And customers are reportedly refusing to scan the QR Check-in barcodes so that they can avoid being alerted and told to isolate.

Restaurants and other food and drinks venues have struggled without staff

She added: "Since re-opening after the lockdown, we have faced a lot of challenges with staff having to self isolate due to family members and friends testing positive. The knock-on effect has been huge not just with our in house staff but it has also caused issues with suppliers who have also been short-staffed, delivery drivers and warehouse staff.

"We have been blessed with good weather but it has put a strain on the team. Sometimes a staff member will be due in on the day they are pinged and to get cover at short notice isn't always possible especially at the time of year with holidays and child care.

"We unfortunately had to close for 10 days due to so many of our staff having to self-isolate. Living on-site was so frustrating to actually see so many guests unaware we were closed and seeing the pub all locked up. We have so many regulars who have become part of our daily life and have been great with their support and understanding.

"The first couple of days when we reopened it was quieter than we would normally be but it is building up again. Although we still have the NHS QR code available there are very few people choosing to use it and will openly say they don't want to risk being pinged.

The new comedy club and cocktail bar, Guildhall Street, had to close for most of August

"We kept in contact with all our staff during isolation, keeping them up to date and just checking in with them. When you are in a job that is so sociable and you are used to being in an environment with lots of other people, it's quite tough to then have to stay at home.

"We were all definitely very glad to be back again and hopefully we won't have to put anymore temporarily closed notices up due to Covid."

A spokesperson for Marston's pubs added: "The ongoing challenges faced by the hospitality industry continue to be well reported in the media.

"It is, however, important that we ensure our pubs continue to be as safe as they can be for our staff and guests."

Hartwood Hall in Chorley has reportedly had to turn tables away due to staffing shortages

In the past few days, the number of people being told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app has fallen dramatically after a total of 395,971 alerts were sent in the following week to July 28.

This comes after Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said the “logic” behind the app was being tweaked, although the sensitivity and risk threshold would remain unchanged.

And the government has set a date of August 16 for when people who are fully vaccinated will not have to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who tests positive.

A new comedy club and cocktail bar on Guildhall Street that opened in the city centre during the pandemic has also made the decision to close for an entire month after six members of staff were 'pinged'.

The ROFL Comedy club, which has only been hosting shows for six weeks, will remain empty for a deep clean and the re-hiring of new staff before its reopening on August 27.

Former boxer and owner Lee Jones, who set up the ROFL comedy club after beating cancer, said that the response to the new comedy club in Preston has been good, but that it has been a challenge during such uncertain times.

He told the Post: "Like many venues, we have been the victim of the so-called 'pingdemic', with a lot of our staff unable to go anywhere and told to isolate and stay in their homes.

"All the staff who we need to work in the bar have been told to isolate, and it has come at a time where all bars and clubs are struggling for staff. We finally managed to get a good team together and then they are pinged.

"Luckily it is traditionally a quieter time for comedy at the minute because so many comedians aren't available as they are performing at festivals, so instead of struggling and doing a half-hearted job, we chose to close and wait until we get extra staff to reopen."

And Greene King pub Hartwood Hall has also reportedly been forced to turn tables away over the past week, as increasingly low staff numbers meant the Chorley restaurant was unable to run on its usual capacity.

The pub was contacted for a comment.

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