‘Pingdemic’ effect: how different sectors in England have been hit
Businesses, transports and councils are dealing with staff shortages due to NHS app-enforced Covid isolations
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Last modified on Thu 22 Jul 2021 12.48 EDT
Some mainline railway signal locations are at “critical levels” in terms of staff shortages, according to the RMT union. Its general secretary told the BBC that four out of five “very important” signal locations on the mainline were at critical levels and there was one location where 17 signallers had been told to isolate.
Trains and buses across England have been cancelled at short notice and several tube lines were forced to close earlier this week due to staff in control rooms and signalling stations needing to self-isolate.
Temporary bus timetables have been put in place in parts of Yorkshire, while the number of staff self-isolating at West Midlands Railway has quadrupled in recent weeks.
Garden waste collections have been hit hard in parts of England as councils struggle. Liverpool city council suspended garden waste collections for a fortnight after one in four staff reported absent for reasons related to coronavirus. Bristol Waste suspended garden waste collections for 10 weeks after reporting a “significant reduction in drivers” due to a national shortage and the impact of the pandemic. Councils in Norfolk, Sandwell, Coventry and Lancashire also reported problems.
Hospital bosses have said staff isolations are affecting their ability to deliver care, according to Chris Hopson of NHS Providers, who has called for a solution “as a matter of urgency”. NHS attempts to deal with a huge backlog of routine care at the same time as treating rising numbers of Covid patients was becoming increasingly difficult, he added. Last week, managers at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS foundation trust asked staff to postpone holidays owing to the area having one of the highest infection rates in the country.
More than 1 million state school pupils in England missed classes last week because of coronavirus-related reasons, according to figures released by the Department for Education. The estimated number of 1.05 million school pupils not in class on 15 July was a record high since all children returned to school in March, and up 11.2% on figures from the previous week. It represented 14.3% of state school pupils not attending school for Covid-related reasons, or about one in every seven students.
Retailers are warning of severe staff shortages, with at least 10% of workers, and up to 30% in some shops, away from their jobs. With disruption to deliveries and thousands of shelf stackers and other staff isolating, some supermarkets are running short of supplies. Marks & Spencer has said it may need to reduce its opening hours, while other retailers, including Iceland, have been forced to temporarily close some stores.
Factories across the UK are struggling to operate due to hundreds of staff being off at once, with some plants on the verge of shutting and others cutting output. The carmaker Stellantis’ Vauxhall van factory in Luton is moving from three shifts to two, while Nissan has adjusted production in some areas of its Sunderland plant. More than three-quarters of manufacturers have been disrupted by test and trace, according to the industry body Make UK, with some plants suffering absences of up to 25% of staff.
Industry leaders believe as many as 20% of all staff in the hospitality sector – which employs more than 3 million people nationwide – are being forced to isolate at any one time. With whole teams being “pinged” at once, pubs, restaurants and hotels have been forced to temporarily close. The pub chain Greene King said it had to shut 33 of its pubs last week. Venues were already struggling to find staff amid a fall in overseas workers coming to Britain due to Covid and Brexit.
Shortages of lorry drivers due to self-isolation are causing disruption for supermarkets and petrol stations, with BP forced to close some of its forecourts due to shortages of fuel deliveries. A Food and Drink Federation survey found three-quarters of its members had driver shortages, exacerbating a lack of available staff in the logistics industry across the UK this year. Royal Mail has warned of disruption in 12 regions of the UK – including Bath, Enfield, and Southport – as thousands of postal workers are forced to isolate. The baker Warburtons has also warned it is struggling to maintain local deliveries.
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