'Lost a couple of staff members a day' - how the 'pingdemic' is hitting Norfolk
- Credit: Archant
The growing 'pingdemic' has left businesses in Norfolk and Waveney fearful for their future, risked charities' frontline work being impacted and dealt another blow to the self-employed.
A record 600,000 people across the UK were told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid-19 app in the week to July 14, which has exacerbated staffing shortages across many already struggling industries.
All local authorities in Norfolk saw a rise in number of people contacted in the last three weeks, with Great Yarmouth the highest at 9.9pc and Breckland the lowest at 3pc for the same week.
Latest NHS figures show the number of contract tracing alerts sent across Norfolk increased by 64pc, increasing to 7,881 from 4,793 the previous week.
In the Great Yarmouth borough, 1,212 alerts were sent in the week to July 14, up 183pc from 429.
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This made it one of the biggest week-on-week increase in people told to isolate by any district in England.
For many businesses in the area, the uncertainty and disruption caused by the additional chaos of the so-called pingdemic has proved too much.
James Antcliff, manager of the Colonel H pub in Nelson Road Central, Great Yarmouth, believes the business will be finished by the end of the summer having only opened in recent months.
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He said: "With the 'pingdemic' and mixed messaging with wearing masks, independent pubs like ours are in danger of going out of business.
"The pandemic has basically killed us. We have had about four to five customers a night and the 'pingdemic' has added to that effect because people are just not coming out to pubs."
The frustration has been echoed across the county, with those told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace or the NHS Covid-19 app asked not leave home for any reason.
In a poll conducted by this newspaper, 401 of the 1,074 respondents said they had never downloaded the app - 37pc.
Of the 673 who have downloaded the app, 300, or 45pc, of people said they had now deleted the app, compared to 373 who are still using it.
Lisa Deary, of Costessey, is self-employed at her Little Glow and Little Mess Norwich business, which works with children aged four to seven.
She had to cancel sessions for parents, having been told to isolate for 10 days, and is now training her volunteer helper Jayne Lewis in case the situation reoccurs.
Mrs Deary said: "I was taking lateral flow tests everyday to make sure I was negative and I did not feel ill or anything.
"But I have lost a lot of money. I can rebook the sessions which are pay-as-you-go and I have moved everyone across to this week but I missed out on new people coming in.
"Being pinged was unexpected and I did not get told anything about it.
"That's why a lot of people think the app is not great as they could just be walking past someone in the street or left their phone somewhere and it goes off. It is frustrating."
Aaron Jones, co-director of the Pleasure Beach in Great Yarmouth, said: "We have lost a couple of staff members a day after being pinged by the app so we are taking on more to cover the rides.
"One of our accountants had a hip replacement and has been off for six weeks then the other accountant who has been great got pinged as well. We had to have a few days where we were stretched but we have had to adapt. It's been a case of all hands on deck and thankfully we are versatile.
"We currently have 70 to 80 ride operators and a good 10 to 20 have been pinged so it has been difficult and thrown a spanner in the works. We are not cutting any corners if staff need to isolate. We need to make sure everyone is safe."
The British Retail Consortium has said ministers need to react quickly and allow fully vaccinated workers, or those who had tested negative for Covid, to go back to work.
Meanwhile, Tony Danker, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said the issue was closing the economy down by the back door.
Supermarket chains across the nation have been hit, with Iceland saying it is recruiting 2,000 temporary staff to cover absences nationally.
Nick Mackenzie, chief executive officer of Greene King, which has 13 pubs in Norfolk, said the government should move to a test and release approach for people who are pinged via the app.
Mr Mackenzie said: "This is a major problem for us and it’s only going to get worse as cases rise and more people have to isolate.
"Hospitality businesses have seen financial support from government drop away as we reopen but we’re effectively operating now under a new type of restriction that has led to dozens of pub closures and dented consumer confidence."
Norwich Bus Station's building was closed all day on Sunday after Konectbus said a member of its team was pinged.
Acle Bridge Inn and the Merchant's House in Norwich are among the various pubs which have also temporarily closed due to staff isolating after being pinged.
And five volunteers from The Feed community fridge in Norwich were pinged when attending the same event in the city, while Norwich Foodbank has had a couple of volunteers affected.
But project manager Hannah Worsley, said it has not made a huge difference to operations overall so far.
How has the "pingdemic" affected Norwich City?
Staff at Carrow Road have been forced to isolate after being pinged, with some testing positive for the virus.
The club would not disclose the numbers of people affected, but some department heads within the business have taken the decision to split staff.
This means one group works in the office while the other works remotely so an entire department is "not wiped out".
A spokesman for Norwich City Football Club said: "It’s safe to say, like everyone else, we have been affected.
"We’ll be no doubt in a similar position to many other local businesses, staff self-isolating as a result of being a close contact, with some others also returning a positive test."
Pinged twice in four weeks
EDP reporter Noah Vickers has been pinged twice in four weeks.
He said: "The first time I was pinged, it meant I had to miss a brunch with friends I hadn’t seen since March 2020. The second time wasn’t as bad and only for a few days.
"What I’ve tried not to lose sight of amid the annoying pings is the harder truth of just how much Covid is surging through the country right now.
"Cases are growing fast, and it appears now to be entirely up to the public to try and slow the spread, which is why I’m refusing to delete the app - despite government ministers going on the radio to tell people the pings can be ignored.
"Friends have joked to me that their ping will come soon, but it feels worse than that. It feels like it’s only a matter of time before I, and almost everyone else who’s only had one jab, catches the virus."