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Pingdemic: M&S and CBI urge government to ease isolation rules as shops, pubs forced to shut

Pub company Greene King said it has been forced to close 33 pubs in the past week due to staff self-isolating

Marks and Spencer Group PLC - Pingdemic: M&S and CBI urge government to ease isolation rules

Marks and Spencer Group PLC (LON:MKS) and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) are among a growing chorus of groups urging the UK government to ease self-isolation policies in an effort to tackle the so-called ‘pingdemic’ of staff shortages caused by large numbers of isolating workers.

The UK workforce is increasingly facing a risk of staff shortage as the surge in cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) leads to more people being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Test and Trace app and being told to self-isolate for ten days.

READ: Surge in Covid-19 'ping' alerts causing staff shortages, businesses warn

On Monday, supermarket group Iceland and pub company Greene King both said they have had to shut some venues because of staff shortages as the app has forced staff to self-sisolate.

Earlier, the CBI suggested that the government should “urgently bring forward its plans to allow double-jabbed individuals not to self-isolate if they have been informed by NHS Test and Trace that they have come into contact with a Covid positive individual”. The group said the government should not wait until August 16 when the policy is currently intended to come into force.

The CBI also said those who have not had two doses of the vaccine should not need to self-isolate if they take “daily lateral flow tests which record as negative for a prescribed number of days and report them to the NHS”.

Iceland said some stores had been unable to open as around 1,000 staff have been "pinged" by the NHS app, according to a report on the BBC, while Greene King said in a statement that it has closed 33 pubs in the past week due to staff self-isolating and gym operator Pure Gym also reported around a quarter of staff were having to isolate.

Last Thursday it was reported that more than 520,000 people had been 'pinged' in the previous week to 7 July, up 46% on the week before, saying they had been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Companies including Rolls-Royce and Nissan were reported as warning that a slowdown of production might result.   

“With restrictions being lifted and cases rapidly increasing, we urgently need a surefooted approach from government, creating confidence to secure the recovery. This starts by immediately ending the self-isolation period of ten days for people who are double-jabbed and providing a route out of isolation for those not yet fully vaccinated through daily lateral flow tests…Against the backdrop of crippling staff shortages, speed is of the essence”, CBI president Karan Bilimoria said in a statement.

“Building and maintaining confidence is key to securing the economic recovery. Business and government will continue working together, helping people and businesses live safely and successfully with the virus. Mask wearing in enclosed spaces, especially transport, will help create confidence for both staff and customers, as will clarity around the future availability of free testing for employees”, Bilimoria added.

Meanwhile, M&S chief executive Steve Rowe told The Sunday Times that COVID-19 cases were doubling each week and around three times as many staff at the retailer were being pinged by the NHS app.

Rowe also warned that the number of M&S staff self-isolating meant the company may need to reduce opening hours at its stores and that late deliveries and food wastage were increasing.

The publication also quoted a senior source at a large supermarket chain who said the pingdemic could result in a “massive disruption in food supplies” and store closures due to a shortage of staff.

A spokesperson for Greene King, which is owned by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, said: “People having to self-isolate because of getting pinged through the app is becoming an increasing problem.

"In the last week alone, we had to temporarily close 33 pubs, which is making it even more challenging to rebuild trade as we reopen and is very disruptive for our team members.

"Along with the rest of the hospitality industry, we are calling on the government to roll out a ‘test to release’ scheme to impacted industries, allowing people to continue working if they receive a negative lateral flow test result.”

Shares in M&S were down 2.7% at 134.6p in early deals, while pub companies JD Wetherspoon (LON:JDW), Mitchells & Butlers plc (LON:MAB) and Marston's (LON:MARS) were down more than 1%, 2% and 3% respectively, while Wagamama owner Restaurant Group (LON:RTN) was down 6%.

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