Retailers and hospitality staff hit by ‘pingdemic’

02 August 2021, 07:37 AM
  • Businesses are calling for an extension of exemptions to self-isolation rules as small retailers and foodservice operators struggle with staff shortages
Retailers and hospitality staff hit by ‘pingdemic’

Although around 10,000 food industry workers are now exempt from self-isolation rules, the ‘pingdemic’ is still causing problems for small, independent retailers. Nearly 75,000 retail staff were forced to self-isolate in July, according to data from FirstCare. The group found that retail has been the hardest hit sector, with absences due to self-isolation rising by 366% from May to 19th July.

Emma Mosey of Minskip Farm Shop told Speciality Food that extending the self-isolation exclusion plans to retail workers would “hugely benefit” her business. “As an essential shop that has operated throughout all lockdowns, we would appreciate the ability to continue operating at full steam through this period too,” Emma said.

Karen Dear, director of operations at the Craft Bakers Association (CBA) agreed that adding more workers to the self-isolation exemption rules in the food industry “could be very helpful”. She continued, “Craft bakeries have rigorously implemented all of the health and safety measures to ensure the safety of their staff and their customers and will of course maintain these important regulations. However the impact of the pandemic on craft bakers continues, with many staff - from bakers to shop workers - having to self isolate at a moment’s notice. This of course can place a significant strain on what are often small businesses.”

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman urged the government to extend exemptions to the whole food and drink supply chain. “As we saw in the first wave, it’s incredibly important to have that breadth of supply so consumers can get hold of product.”

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) also encouraged the government to allow retail staff and their suppliers to continue working by taking Covid tests instead of isolating when told they’ve been in contact with someone with Covid on the NHS app. “Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double vaccinated or can show a negative Covid test, to ensure there is no disruption to the public’s ability to get food and other goods,” said Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC.

‘Pingdemic’ issues extend to hospitality

Foodservice operators are also struggling with the effects of isolation rules. “As we are also running a hospitality business, an industry suffering already from staff shortages, we would love to see the exclusion extended to this sector, though we do understand it is not an essential sector,” Emma added.

Independent cafés and restaurants have also struggled to cope with short staff numbers due to self-isolation rules. Steve Bazell of That Gin & Cocktail Bar in Warwick said the ‘pingdemic’ has cost him more than £10,000. “The ‘pingdemic’ is another challenge to our business that no one would have foreseen even a few weeks ago and presents its own unique set of obstacles. We have had cancellations for our private hire room and the bar as people are worried about getting ‘pinged.’ Coupled with people having to take a test before foreign travel, it all contributes to the ongoing challenges many businesses are facing.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is 16th August when hopefully people that are double vaccinated will not have to self-isolate if ‘pinged’,” he said.

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