‘Summer of closures’ predicted for pubs and restaurants due to ‘pingdemic’
A “summer of venue closures” will see pubs and restaurants shuttered after hospitality staff were left off the list of critical workers exempt from self-isolation, industry chiefs have warned, as coronavirus cases continued to rise.
Hotels, clubs and leisure parks are also expected to face closures and shortened opening hours as staff in sectors such as food supply and emergency services were favoured under the measure to tackle the “pingdemic”.
The UKHospitality trade association warned the sector will have “one tied behind our back” as staff are forced into isolation over Covid-19 contacts during what should be the peak season.
Ministers were facing sustained calls to bring forward the date when all fully vaccinated individuals can avoid isolation over close contacts from August 16.
The mounting criticism came as data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed Covid-19 cases continued to rise, with around one in 75 people in England infected.
The estimate of the number testing positive – 741,700 – in the week to July 17 is the highest number since the week to January 30.
Ministers sought to calm the concerns of industry by publishing a list of sectors whose double-jabbed workers are eligible to avoid isolation if they undergo daily testing.
In the emergency measures to protect supplies, around 10,000 workers in the food sector were expected to be included in the scheme. Others in key sectors of the economy and vital public services were also included.
“We now face a summer of venue closures and reduced service, when we should be at a seasonal peak. The sector will do all it can to provide great service, but it will be with one hand tied behind our back,” she said.
“Those who are fully vaccinated should be able to test after a ping and, subject to a negative result, carry on with their lives. For those not fully vaccinated two negative tests should be sufficient to return to work.”
But the British Medical Association said the problem was not the “excessive pinging” of the NHS Covid-19 app but that the Government’s coronavirus strategy has caused “rocketing case numbers”.
BMA council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said isolation numbers are the “direct result of lack of effective measures by Government that is allowing the virus to let rip throughout the nation”.
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Government risks “losing social consent” for isolation if it does not immediately bring forward the wider relaxation of quarantine rules.
His call was echoed by fellow Conservative Greg Clark, a former business secretary who now chairs the Commons Science and Technology Committee.
“We know that on August 16 a new system will come in, in which you can take a test if you’re named as a contact and only isolate if you’re positive – I don’t see why we can’t begin that now on July 23 rather than wait,” he told the BBC Radio 4’s World At One.”
But Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky the date “at the moment is not coming forward”.
“Things can always change in either direction but the reason we set these days is to give people some kind of indication about what they can expect,” he added.
The need for action was underlined by latest figures showing a record number of people in England and Wales were “pinged” as contacts by the app and told to self-isolate for up to 10 days.
NHS figures show 618,903 alerts were sent to users of the app in the week to July 14, a period before most of England’s restrictions were lifted and more social contact was allowed.
The Local Government Association said directors of public health were already being overwhelmed with queries from employers who believe their staff should be exempt.
Services provided by local authorities such as bin collections, road repairs, and park maintenance could be hit, the council representatives warned.
Meanwhile, data from Public Health England (PHE) suggested the Delta variant of coronavirus may be 46% more likely to cause reinfection than the Alpha variant first identified in Kent.
The overall chances of getting reinfected are very low but the research suggested there is a greater risk posed by the variant first identified in India which now accounts for 99% of UK cases.
It is thanks to our loyal readers that we can continue to provide the trusted news, analysis and insight that matters to you. For unlimited access to our unrivalled local reporting, you can take out a subscription here and help support the work of our dedicated team of reporters.