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The impact of the ‘pingdemic’ on small businesses

As Covid cases rise once again, perhaps due to mixing at large sporting events and our relative freedom on July 19, more and more employees are being told via the Track and Trace app to isolate.

Diane Hall


Getting an email notification on your phone.

With just one ping, the affected employee (whether suffering symptoms or not) must be holed up at home whilst their employer struggles to cover their workload.

It sounds an unfortunate position, but one that can’t be helped. After all, employee absence is just a fact of life.

If the ‘pingdemic’ was limited to just the odd employee here and there, perhaps the situation wouldn’t be making news.

The problem is, whole workforces are getting pinged in their droves, which is not surprising, given the close proximity of workers in individual workplaces…if one person gets Covid, it’s highly likely their colleagues will, too. Even if these colleagues don’t feel like they’ve caught the virus, the T&T app will still have detected how long they were near the infected individual and ordered them to stay at home.

Temp closed sign being placed on a window due to Covid-19

Temp closed sign being placed on a window due to Covid-19

The pingdemic is being blamed for the current shortage of supplies on various supermarkets’ shelves. There are other reasons for stock scarcity, but even if deliveries get to the store, there are far fewer staff members to actually put the goods out on display. According to The Sun, ‘20% of Britain’s food workers have been hit by the crisis’, with half of all deliveries to shops delayed due to pinged employees in the distribution and transport sectors. The drawback here is, the more the media cites food shortages, the more likely people are to panic buy, which only exacerbates the issue.

The problem has become so acute that, following pressure from business leaders, the government recently issued a list of occupations that were exempt from T&T pings and subsequent isolation guidelines. These employees—such as those classified as ‘essential transport’, landfill operators, workers involved in food distribution and supply, and more—providing they feel well, have received both of their Covid vaccinations, and are committed to taking lateral flow tests on a daily basis, and assuming these lead to a negative result, can continue working.

Of course, it’s not just the food industry, other sectors are suffering from the pingdemic…in fact, it’s difficult to find a business that hasn’t been affected.

As I write, despite ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19, it’s still a legal requirement, if you are pinged, to self-isolate. Whilst this may be not be much of an issue for some workers (particularly those who receive full sick pay, and particularly given the warm weather we’ve had lately), it could have a huge financial impact on workers who only receive SSP. Ten days with hardly any pay is going to hit people hard, and it’s probably for this reason that I’ve read of many ‘pinged’ people simply deleting the T&T app if they felt they had no symptoms and carrying on as normal. Considering that 600,000 Brits were pinged in a 7-day period very recently, it’s not inconceivable that the country could grind to a halt.

On August 16 2021, the rules are set to change, in respect of a person’s legal obligation to self-isolate; I suspect it will follow the journey of the face mask, where the question of whether someone wears one in public/crowded places comes down to the individual. Herd immunity, according to some people, with the added protection of the vaccines, has been the true aim of the government’s actions throughout the pandemic. If the responsibility of isolating is on the individual’s shoulders, come August 16, we may reach herd immunity more quickly than anticipated, as workers without symptoms or who test negative on often-unreliable lateral flow tests simply continue on with their lives.

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