One of Britain’s leading pub chains Greene King said it had to temporarily close 33 pubs in the last week because of the number of employees required to go into quarantine after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.
It’s currently a legal requirement in the United Kingdom to isolate at home for 10 days if you test positive for the virus or if told to do so by the national test and trace service, which alerts people via an app if they’ve had close contact with someone who has tested positive. Fines are payable for breaking the rules, which are expected to be relaxed on August 16.
With new coronavirus cases approaching 50,000 a day — the highest rate of infection since January — and hundreds of thousands more people told to isolate by the app, businesses are urging the government to ease the rules for people who are fully vaccinated much sooner than next month.
“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 right across the economy, as cases are already rising fast and the final restrictions are eased,” said Helen Dickinson, the CEO of the British Retail Consortium, in a statement.
“Given the effectiveness of the current vaccine roll-out programme, the government should pull forward the August 16th date so that people who are fully vaccinated or have a negative test are not forced to needlessly quarantine when they are contacted by track and trace,” she added.
Rival chain Iceland Foods has not been as fortunate. It’s already had to close some stores for the first time since the pandemic began because it does not have enough people to staff them, managing director Richard Walker wrote in the Daily Mail last week.
Walker told BBC Radio 4 on Monday that more than 1,000 employees, or 4% of its workforce, are isolating due to Covid — a 50% increase over the past week and a 400% increase compared to a month ago. As infections rise, “it could get a lot worse, a lot quicker,” he added.
While retail and hospitality businesses appear to be hardest hit, the problem is creeping into other areas of the economy too.
Car manufacturer Vauxhall Motors, which is owned by Stellantis, said Monday that its plant in Luton will move from three shifts to two for the duration of this week because increasing numbers of employees have been contacted by the test and trace app.
“It is not an exaggeration to say factories are on the verge of shutting and that at some sites hundreds of staff are off work,” Steve Turner, assistant general secretary at manufacturing union Unite said in a statement on Sunday.
“One major engine supplier has said that so many people are absent and orders so far behind that work may to be permanently relocated to China,” Turner added.
The British Chambers of Commerce, a business lobby group, said last week that companies need to know if the government has any plans to allow people to return to work more swiftly. “Instances of self-isolation will almost certainly continue to rise between now and the change set for August 16,” co-executive director Hannah Essex said in a statement.