July 24, 2021, 10:54

    UK buckles under ‘pingdemic’ as shops shut down and police response times slow

    UK buckles under ‘pingdemic’ as shops shut down and police response times slow

    Bosses are telling staff to ignore the NHS Covid app, supermarket shelves are left bare, and police response times are being hit by staff shortages as the 'pingdemic' crisis intensifies.

    Supermarket shelves are being pictured empty as businesses struggled with short-staff as the numbers isolating soar.

    BP and Iceland may are warning they may have to close stores within days, with some BP stations already shut and the supermarket brand's boss warning of similar issues.

    More than half a million people were pinged to isolate in one recent week by the app as Delta variant cases surge.

    Ministers stoked confusion over the problem as some suggested people should ignore it as it is not a legal order to isolate, unlike an NHS Test and Trace call.

    Morrisons supermarket shelves in Glasgow are pictured empty of water as the 'pingdemic' hits businesses across the UK
    (Image: Katielee Arrowsmith SWNS)

    Have you seen empty shelves or has your business been forced to shut? Email us at webnews@mirror.co.uk

    But the government has said it won't tinker with the app to make it less sensitive after complaints about its sensitivity, as leaders begged Brits not to delete the app.

    Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng rejected claims the number of people being pinged by the app is causing retailers to struggle to keep shelves stocked.

    He told Sky News: "I don't recognise the bare shelves. Clearly in some places it's happening but it's not universal across the country."

    A food distribution firm struggling with staff shortages has admitted advising workers pinged by the NHS app to take tests and continue working, in breach of the Government advice.

    A water bottle shelf stands empty at a Glasgow Tesco on Thursday
    (Image: Katielee Arrowsmith SWNS)

    Bidfood chief executive Andrew Selley defended his approach for delivery drivers to continue working if they have negative results as “appropriate and safe” because they are “critical workers” in the UK's food supply chain.

    He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme workers who are positive or contacted by Test and Trace must isolate.

    But those pinged by the app are asked to take a PCR test and if it is negative they can return to work."

    He said: "We think that's appropriate and safe. The ping is advisory. We operate in Covid-safe workplaces and we're absolutely key workers in terms of the supply chain to hospitals, care homes, prisons, and therefore it's important for us to be able to keep offering that service to our customers."

    Fresh produce was not making it to the shelves in one Tesco in Glasgow on Thursday
    (Image: Katielee Arrowsmith SWNS)

    The chaos comes after pubs and restaurants said they were being left unable to open in recent weeks as staff were constantly ordered into isoltion.

    Meanwhile, the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) today claimed police response times are being affected – claiming some forces experiencing "higher levels of absence."

    The NPCC said that in some forces, functions such as control room operations are seeing higher staff absences than the national police absence rate, which is 7.3%.

    This has an impact on a force's ability to respond quickly to calls from the public, the NPCC said.

    The comments came after one police and crime commissioner warned the public that call response times will rise due to the 'pingdemic.'

    Steve Turner of Cleveland Police said the force has 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 following close contact with someone with Covid.

    An NPCC spokesman said: "Nationally, the police officer and staff absence rate is 7.3%. However, in some forces some functions, such as control rooms, are experiencing higher levels of absence.

    Morrisons supermarket shelves in Glasgow are pictured empty of water as the 'pingdemic' hits businesses across the UK
    (Image: Katielee Arrowsmith SWNS)

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    "Absence rates in control rooms affect a police force's ability to respond promptly to calls from the public, in particular emergency calls.

    "Police forces affected are guiding the public on how to contact the police while they are under strain. We are engaging with Government about how to best resolve this issue."

    Mr Turner called on the government to review the rules for emergency workers who are pinged by the NHS Covid app.

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

    The NHS Covid app is pinging hundreds of thousands of people a week
    (Image: Getty Images)

    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 app and said the force was seeing an increase in demand on requests for service due to the heatwave, restrictions being lifted and the school holidays.

    Some police forces claim they are being hit by isolation order shortages
    (Image: SWNS)

    "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."

    "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."

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a Downing Street press conference on Monday that some key workers would be exempt from the requirement to self-isolate if they are fully vaccinated.

    Speaking remotely from his own self-isolation at Chequers, Mr Johnson said isolation rules will be relaxed for a "small number" of fully vaccinated critical workers who are identified as close contacts.

    Professor Tim Spector told Sky : "I think employers should tell their staff if they feel unwell, they have cold-like symptoms, then they stay away.

    But I don't think the app saying that someone might have passed them by in a supermarket is actually that useful anymore in the current state of the pandemic."

    He added: "It doesn't seem to be appropriate at the moment… it seems to be overkill."

    And he went on: "I think employers have got to just use common sense."

    Prof Spector said researchers are investigating how many people "pinged" by the app went on to contract Covid.

    Sourse: mirror.co.uk

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