City bosses urge test and trace changes amid 'pingdemic'
- Credit: Archant
Hospitality bosses are calling on Boris Johnson to change isolation rules as a matter of urgency - saying the 'pingdemic' is posing the greatest challenge to the sector so far.
Owners of pubs and cafes are hauling chefs out of the kitchen and office staff from behind their desks and getting them onto the shop floor.
It comes as more than half a million people were alerted to isolate in the first month of July, causing a staffing nightmare for managers.
Steve Magnall, who co-owns the Two Magpies Bakery in Norwich, has called on the government to bring forward the August 16 deadline for those who do not need to isolate if they have been double jabbed.
He said: "If we all know people who are double-jabbed won't have to isolate in a few weeks time, why aren't we just doing it? If we're trying to desensitise people to the virus then we just need to do that.
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"It's a complete nightmare. I've had five people in one of my sites isolating - which doesn't sound like much but it's our entire front of house team. We've had to take chefs out of the kitchen and instead taking orders and vice versa - anything to keep the sites trading.
"It's especially difficult for us because if we have one customer pop in for a coffee and then they test positive that's my whole business impacted for a week. But the majority of my staff are double jabbed, so in a couple of week's time it wouldn't be an issue.
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"The government can't tell people they're free and leave it to businesses to bear the brunt - whether it's isolating or coming up with their own policies on asking customers to wear masks."
He was echoed by Nick Attfield, director of properties at Adnams which has sites across East Anglia, who said this was the "most challenging era of the pandemic so far" with staff at its central office tasked with making cocktails to cover shifts.
But even businesses with thousands of staff instead of handfuls are feeling their way down the path to freedom.
A spokesman for Aviva, which employs 5,000 in the city's Surrey Street, said the insurance giant has scrapped social distancing.
They said: "There will be no imposed social distancing. All desks and meeting rooms will be available for use at pre-Covid levels. However, we will encourage colleagues to remain aware of what they can do to reduce the risk of the virus spreading."
But despite renting some of the city's biggest commercial office space, managers are aware of how quickly a positive test could impact the entire site.
The spokesman went on: "Our focus continues to be on the safety and wellbeing of our people, customers and communities.
"If someone in our office tests positive we have a 24 hour response team in operation that assess and manage any confirmed cases, including a rapid cleaning regime for sanitising contact areas. Anyone who came into contact with the person who tested positive would be required to isolate and work from home in line with current government guidance.
"We will continue to ask people working in our offices to carry out regular coronavirus lateral flow testing (LFT) either at home or in our offices and will continue this as long as we think it is necessary."
Businesses which operate large, open-plan factories face similar issues, with Bowthorpe-based Kettle Foods saying they had seen low infection rates, but will not relax measures until they "believe it is safe".
A spokeswoman for the crisp maker said: "Our key priority is the safety of our team. We have had measures in place throughout the pandemic with people safely distanced from each other in the workplace. These measures will not be relaxed until we believe it is safe. We continue to test temperatures daily and have screens and masks to protect people in their work stations and in the Feed Bistro.
"The majority of the office staff continue to work from home and the office is segregated from the factory therefore there is limited contact."
- Q&A: Is it illegal to delete the test and trace app?
Up to 11pc of people who downloaded the test and trace app have now deleted it - according to a new study commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
But is this legal? Here, Liz Stevens a professional support lawyer at Birketts, explains.
Isolating if you were alerted by test and trace was made a legal requirement in September 2020 - is this still the case?
Ms Stevens said: "Yes this remains the case, under the provisions of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020.
"These regulations were amended in December 2020 to reduce the self-isolation period from 14 to 10 days for those in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
"Workers must notify their employer that they are required to self-isolate as soon as is reasonably practicable, and not later than their next working day.
"Note, these legal provisions only apply to those notified directly by NHS Test and Trace that they are a close contact of a positive case, not to alerts from the NHS COVID-19 app."
Is it illegal to delete the track and trace app?
Liz continued: “No, the app is voluntary and can be deleted at any time, but the legal requirement to self-isolate will still apply if you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace.”
Is it legal for employers to ask staff to delete the app, or to make them turn off contact tracing?
Liz concluded: “It is not illegal for employers to suggest that staff delete the app, or to turn off contact tracing.
"The government guidance includes some specific workplace scenarios when users should pause the contact tracing feature such as storing phones in lockers while working, or wearing medical grade PPE."