Saturday September 18, 2021

Virus ‘pingdemic’ causes havoc for UK businesses

AFP
July 25, 2021

London: From watering the plants and setting up tables to arranging bottles on the shelves, Italian restaurant owner Giuseppe Gullo´s hands are as full as his customers´ bellies, with Britain´s "pingdemic" decimating his staff.

"In the last month, I´ve been covering for everyone, from the kitchen to maintenance," explained the stoically cheerful Gullo, inside his Lume restaurant in Primrose Hill, an upmarket London neighbourhood.

After the shocks of lockdown and Brexit, the "pingdemic" is the new scourge of businesses across Britain.

Hundreds of thousands of workers have been "pinged" by the app that tracks the country´s coronavirus cases, requiring them to stay at home and isolate themselves for 10 days.

The emergence of the delta variant, first found in India, has worsened the situation in recent weeks, with cases -- and therefore close contacts with infected people -- spiralling.

The government on Friday had to exempt more than 10,000 food workers from quarantine -- on condition that they test negative daily -- amid reports of empty shelves in supermarkets.

"This is getting out of scale, everybody gets pinged," said Gallo, who also criticised the government´s "confusing" messaging.

Business Secretary Paul Scully said earlier this week that notifications were only advice and those pinged should make an "informed decision".

Downing Street then contradicted him, saying that observing quarantine was "crucial".

The economic think-tank CEBR estimates that the cost to the UK economy of isolating hundreds of thousands of employees until August 16 will hit £4.6 billion ($6.3 billion, 5.4 billion euros).

From that date, the isolation requirement will be lifted for fully vaccinated people.

Some bosses interviewed by AFP admitted that they had already encouraged their employees to come to work despite receiving the alerts.

Gullo said he did not want to "put people at risk just for economic benefit".

"You want your staff to come to work, feel safe and be in a healthy environment," he said.

"We´re facing the public and I want the public to know that if they come here, we follow every rule that we need to follow."

As a consequence, he is faced with a lack of manpower, and is considering closing one or more days a week or limiting services.

But the hospitality industry´s woes are not confined to the pingdemic.

The pandemic combined with Brexit, which has increased staffing costs and discouraged many foreign workers from coming to the UK, has had a devastating effect.

All businesses surveyed by three industry associations, including UKHospitality, Britain´s leading hospitality trade association, say they are currently looking for staff, and that 200,000 more employees are needed to keep restaurants and pubs running at full capacity.

"The pandemic made people realise they could change work very easily," said Gullo, who explained two members of his team of eight had moved back to Italy.

"We are very worried. I have a very good team, but if they decide to move on if they get poached, we struggle to fill up those positions," he added.

When the restaurant reopened at the end of May, he immediately sensed there would be problems.

"Everybody in restaurants was calling each other, looking for cooks and servers."

According to him, all the CVs he has received in his 15-year career in London came from mainland Europe, but never from Britain.