How NHS app Pingdemic chaos is bringing Britain to a grinding halt 

  • Meat industry body CEO warns that food supply chains are ‘starting to fail’; 
  • Thameslink and Southern announced a reduced timetable from Monday due to self-isolation; 
  • Vauxhall temporarily stops night shifts at its Luton plant due to a number of staff having to self-isolate;
  • Actor Kenneth Branagh’s production of The Browning Version becomes the latest play to be called off; 
  • Head of NHS providers says ambulance and acute hospital trusts  are now under ‘extreme pressure’;
  • More councils suspend green waste pick-ups, as others shut libraries; 
  • Neale Wade Academy in Cambridgeshire among the schools to close early due to teachers being pinged; 
  • Pret temporarily closes several branches, including Moorgate and CityPoint in London;
  • Lorry driver complains of ‘pumps running dry’ at BP petrol stations due to delays in fuel deliveries;
  • Food and Drink Federation survey finds three-quarters of its members report shortage of drivers. 

Desperate supermarkets are hiring more staff to beat the ‘pingdemic’ as shelves lie empty across the country while workers self-isolate due to the NHS Test & Trace app.

Iceland today confirmed in the next few days it will start to draft in another 2,000 employees to fill temporary roles across its shops following an advertising blitz in stores, on social media and in service stations.

The frozen food chain has been forced to reduce opening hours this week and its northern sites have been particularly hard hit by staff absences.

Pictures show aisles at some supermarkets already empty of cheese, meat, bottle water, ice cream and fresh vegetables as an expert warned food chains were ‘starting to fail’ due to staff shortages exacerbated by the ‘pingdemic’ – and one police force struggled to answer 999 calls.

Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Lidl and Morrisons stores in Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh, Cambridge and Southampton were seen with significant gaps on the shelves in sections including frozen fish, pizzas, bottled water, ice creams and packaged salads.

The images will raise concerns that a lack of supermarket staff and delivery drivers are leading to delays in replenishing product lines, although it is likely that many of these products are in higher demand in the summer, while other shoppers reported plentiful supplies.

Helen Dickinson, CEO of the British Retail Consortium, said: ‘We are already seeing a serious impact on retail operations as a result of staff having to self-isolate and this will only get worse.’ She demanded an end to ‘needless quarantine’ for people who have been double-jabbed and tested negative.

In the face of widespread anger over labour shortages as Covid cases continued to soar, the Prime Minister this week announced a plan for a ‘small number’ of critical workers to be able to continue their functions.

But British Meat Processors Association chief executive Nick Allen criticised ‘confusing messages’ from the Government as he said ministers have not clarified who is applicable.

‘There’s an air of despondency creeping through the industry really. Until now we’ve managed to keep the food supply chain running but there’s a sense of we’re starting to fail on that front,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Asked if production lines are stalling, he said: ‘They are. It’s happening already. We’re starting to see that at retail level and in restaurants – everyone is struggling to get things out really.’

The Road Haulage Association estimates there is now a shortage of 100,000 lorry drivers in the UK, which they warn has been hampering deliveries of food from warehouses to supermarkets.

Thousands of prospective drivers are waiting for their HGV tests due to a backlog caused by lockdown, while many existing ones have left the UK after Brexit. The problem has been exacerbated by Covid, with drivers having to go into self-isolation, and there being a backlog in drivers waiting to take their tests to qualify.

The frozen fish section at a Morrisons in Manchester today as supermarket shoppers complained of shortages of some products 

An empty freezer section at a Sainsbury’s Local in Bristol today amid complaints that a shortage of drivers was making it difficult to deliver food products 

The meat section at a Tesco in Bristol today. Today the British Meat Processors Association complained that food supplies chains had been put under heavy strain 

Gaps in the mineral water section at Lidl in Granton, Edinburgh. Similar scenes were seen in other stores across the country today 

A spokesman for Iceland said: ‘We have been bringing local colleagues in from nearby stores to support the stores that need more help.

‘It has been all hands to the pump. We’ve seen managers driving delivery vans and really going above and beyond.’

She added: ‘Any availability impact is due to absence in HGV drivers, but moreover a far deeper rooted issue in HGV drivers UK-wide, worsened by the pingdemic.’

Elsewhere other stores faced similar problems, with Tesco and Asda in Cambridge running out of household staples with lots of empty shelves at their stores this afternoon.

At Tesco there was a shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables, fridge food, water, beer and kitchen roll. Whilst Asda was short of bread, fruit and vegetables.

Today at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson apologised to businesses for the disruption they had experienced, but urged people to stick with the rules until they change because ‘isolation is a vital tool of our defence’. 

‘I apologise to everybody in business up and down the land in all kinds of services, public sector or otherwise, who are experiencing inconvenience,’ he said.

But Sir Keir Starmer hit back accused Mr Johnson of ‘trying to dodge’ his own quarantine after his contact with Covid-positive Health Secretary Sajid Javid and highlighted inconsistencies in policy.

‘When it comes to creating confusion the Prime Minister is a superspreader,’ the Labour leader said, as he accused Mr Johnson of ushering in a ‘summer of chaos’.

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Today a third of the Dorset Police control room staff were off work after being notified by the NHS Covid app or Test & Trace to self-isolate or following a positive test – at the same time as 999 calls surged 20% week on week.

Meanwhile the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland warned the public that call response times will rise due to the ‘pingdemic’.

Royal Mail has also seen an increase in absences due self-isolating staff, and this morning announced delays to deliveries in 10 parts of England.  

Mr Johnson has promised to exempt some essential workers from quarantine, but today British Meat Processors Association chief executive Nick Allen said the industry is not clear who will be included in this scheme. 

‘It was made very clear to us late yesterday that this exemption will be for very, very few people. They described it as setting the bar very, very high and we’re certainly not counting on that,’ he said.

Pubs and shops have complained about having to close because of the number of people being ‘pinged’ as contacts by the NHS Covid-19 app, while medics have also raised concerns.

The latest figures show more than 500,000 people in England and Wales were asked to isolate by the NHS app in the week up to July 1.

In response to a lack of staff, Thameslink and Southern announced a reduced timetable from Monday, publishing a list of affected routes online. 

Sliced cheese shelves empty at Morrisons at The Gyle, Edinburgh. In previous days BBQ items have also been in short supply – although that will be exacerbated by high demand due to the time of year 

A frozen section at a Sainsbury’s in Craigleith, Edinburgh. The images will raise concerns that staff shortages are leading to delays in replenishing product lines in supermarkets, although it is likely that many of these products are in higher demand in the summer

Fruit and veg stock at Hedge End Sainsburys near Southampton this afternoon, as shoppers complained of a lack of certain products 

A frozen section at a Morrisons in Manchester is seen cleared of products in a photo taken this afternoon 

Some fruit and vegetables were in short supply today at this Sainsbury’s in Hedge End near Southampton 

There have been reports that the government may excuse supermarket workers and HGV drivers from having to self-isolate if they are pinged by the Covid app. Pictured: Empty pizza shelves at a Morrisons in Granton, Edinburgh  

A frozen fruit and pastries section in Craigleith, Edinburgh, today amid similar scenes in other supermarkets across the UK 

This graph shows the proportion of Covid-positive cases who were not reached and asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace (red), and the total number of cases transferred (blue). Test and Trace missed 14 per cent of Covid-infected people in England two weeks ago, the most since the start of the second wave

Is England starting to IGNORE Test and Trace amid ‘pingdemic’ chaos? Proportion of infected patients not being reached has DOUBLED since start of June 

By Luke Andrews, Health Reporter for MailOnline

Test and Trace may already be struggling to keep up with England’s third Covid wave before it has even peaked, MailOnline analysis revealed today.

Official figures show the proportion of infected patients who are not being tracked down has doubled since the start of June, when cases began to spiral.

Experts said the same trend was seen as the second wave began to take off, when performance dipped slightly in line with a ferocious surge in infections.

But others warned it may be a sign people are starting to revolt against Test and Trace amid the ‘pingdemic’ chaos that has engulfed the country, which has seen pubs forced to close, trains cancelled and supermarkets left with empty shelves.

Official data revealed seven per cent of Covid-infected people across England were not reached via calls, texts or emails at the start of June — and the figure hovered at a similar mark when cases stayed low.

But it surged to almost 14 per cent in the week to July 8, the latest date figures are available for. This was the worst performance since October.

And the number of people who caught the virus but did not hand over details of their close contacts rose eight-fold in a fortnight. 

Samuel Tombs, from consultants Pantheon Macroeconomics, estimated that after including confirmed cases, and taking into account the subsequent growth in infections, it was plausible that 1.77m people, or 2.7% of the population, were not self-isolating. 

The issue has hit the health service itself, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, saying many ambulance and acute hospital trusts were finding themselves ‘under extreme pressure’ because of a combination of ‘very high demand and very high levels of staff absence due to self-isolation’.  

The recent days have seen delays on the Tube, trains and the cancellation of bin collections.  

The latest play to be cancelled after losing cast members to self-isolation is Kenneth Branagh’s production of The Browning Version, the Financial Times reported.   

Mr Johnson resisted calls from businesses struggling to cope with reduced staffing levels by declining to introduce a more wide-reaching change to quarantine rules ahead of August 16, when a testing regime will replace the requirement for fully-vaccinated contacts to isolate.

The Prime Minister argued self-isolation is ‘one of the few shots we have got left in our locker’ as he scrapped most remaining legal restrictions in England on so-called ‘freedom day’ on Monday.

He suggested an exemption would cover some in hospitals and care homes, or working in the supply of food, electricity and medicines, and transport, defence and borders.

But the Government has said there is no ‘blanket exemption for any sector or role’ and decisions will be made largely on a case-by-case basis.

Downing Street has declined to say how many people will be granted exemptions, but it is understood the figure is not expected to reach the high tens of thousands.

One executive said officials had suggested yesterday that they would take an ‘unbelievably hard line’ on exemptions as they sought to minimise the relief.

‘The mood might change if there are empty shelves over the weekend,’ he said. 

Royal Mail has also seen an increase in absences due to staff having to self-isolate, and this morning announced delays to deliveries in 10 parts of England

Hand sanitiser shelves almost empty at Morrisons at The Gyle, Edinburgh, in an image taken late this morning 

There were only two melons left at this Morrisons in Edinburgh, although the products had been in a promotion 

The government recently announced it would excuse some HGV drivers from self-isolating to relieve supply shortages. Pictured are bare shelves at a Morrisons in Bradford 

A fish section at a Tesco. The latest figures show more than 500,000 people in England and Wales were asked to isolate by the NHS app in the week up to July 1

Today a lorry driver complained about ‘pumps running dry’ at BP petrol stations – as the oil giant apologised and said the issue was due to a shortage of drivers 

A picture of bare shelves in a Sainsbury’s taken this week. Supermarkets are confident that low supplies of any particular products can be quickly replenished 

Shoppers have shared photos of gaps on the shelves at some supermarkets as the food supply chain was hit by a surge in self-isolating workers 

A shortage of HGV drivers in Britain – caused by a combination of Brexit and the pandemic – is affecting some businesses. Pictured is a photo of shelves in a Sainsbury’s this week 

Nearly one in four people has deleted or switched off the app – and millions more say they will refuse to isolate if ‘pinged’

The deluge of absences at Dorset Police comes at a time of heightened demand for the emergency service, with calls to 101, the non-emergency number, up by 11% from last week.

And the crisis is set to worsen – hundreds of thousands of families from outside the area are starting to flood into resorts like Bournemouth as the school holidays begin and temperatures remain balmy.

A spokesman said 35 per cent of control room staff are currently off because they Covid, coronavirus symptoms or are having to self-isolate following a request by the NHS Test and Trace app.

‘Significant work has been undertaken to mitigate the impact this is having on our service and many of those who are isolating are able to work from home and respond to non-urgent calls to service that are made via our digital channels,’ she said.

‘We are asking the public to help us further by using our online non-emergency channels where possible rather than calling 101.

‘Anyone calling 101 may have to wait some time before speaking to a call handler as our 999 service must remain our priority.

‘Please remember, only dial 999 in an emergency – when life is threatened, people are injured, offenders are nearby, or immediate action is required. We would like to thank the public for their understanding and patience at this challenging time.’

Meanwhile Cleveland Police had to cancel rest days and annual leave for some officers, as well as bringing in others from different shifts, to fill gaps caused by staff having to self-isolate.

It was reported five officers were taken off duty and self-isolating in just one incident after they came into contact with a virus-positive prisoner.

Police and crime commissioner Steve Turner called on the Government to review the rules for emergency workers who are pinged.

He called for healthy emergency workers to be tested daily for coronavirus so they will not automatically be taken off frontline duties.

He told the BBC: ‘We have got to provide a service. We suddenly find ourselves cancelling rest days and cancelling leave and bringing officers in from other shifts to cover where we have got the gaps.

‘However, our call times will go up, we will miss some calls we would normally pick up because we have less resilience in the call centre and all of these things will have a knock-on effect for the Cleveland public.’

The force declined to say how many officers were off after being alerted by the Test and Trace app.

A spokesman said: ‘We’re seeing an increase in demand on requests for service due to the heatwave, restrictions being lifted and the school holidays.

‘We’re also seeing an increase in Covid-19 cases and self-isolation across the workforce which is having an impact on the front line.

‘We have put swift plans in place to ensure that we can respond to the most vulnerable in our communities and deal with 999 emergencies, however the public may experience delays in call answering for non-emergency incidents and we’re asking people to use the website to report or ask for advice if they are able.

‘For operational reasons we don’t provide the details of current levels of sickness as part of our overall strategy to keep the public safe from interested criminals.’  

Today a third of the Dorset Police control room staff were off work after being notified by the NHS Covid app or Test & Trace to self-isolate or following a positive test. It came amid a surge of calls and an influx of visitors to spots like Bournemouth Beach

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