Concerns mount over ‘pingdemic’ as Test and Trace app wreaks havoc

Businesses across the country are being pummelled by staff shortages this week after hundreds of thousands of people were pinged by the NHS Test and Trace app, with concerns mounting about the viability of easing restrictions in England on Monday.

At least half a dozen industry bodies from across the healthcare, transport, retail, and manufacturing sectors have warned of a potentially calamitous situation in which staff shortages caused by the alerts from the NHS Test and Trace app cause widespread business disruption.

The latest group to ring the alarm is the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, who warned that the risk to patients of having critical surgeries delayed was greater than their chances of catching COVID-19 from fully vaccinated surgeons.

“The risk of patients contracting COVID from vaccinated healthcare staff is minimal compared to the damage that patients could suffer by having their treatment delayed,” a statement said.

The medical workers joined a chorus of concern from the likes of the CBI, which represents over 190,000 British businesses, UK Hospitality, which represents pubs and restaurants, and the transport unions, who warned of “dire consequences” if the UK fully reopened next week.


More than half a million people in England were pinged by the Test and Trace app in a week, the highest figure recorded.

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A total of 520,194 alerts were sent to users of the NHS COVID-19 app in the week to 7 July, telling them they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus and to self-isolate.

On Friday morning, the group that represents meat processing companies warned that firms would be forced to shut down production entirely if the situation continues to worsen.

“We’re hearing reports from some members that between 5% and 10% of their workforce have been ‘pinged’ by the app and asked to self-isolate,” said Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association.

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‘Very significant rise’ in workers being forced to isolate

“This is on top of the desperate shortage of workers that the industry is already suffering,” he added. “If the UK workforce situation deteriorates further, companies will be forced to start shutting down production lines all together.”

Mr Allen said that he had been calling on the government for months to add butchers to the shortage occupation list, which allows the government to offer temporary work visas to foreign nationals who have skills that are currently needed in the UK.

This would enable the industry to temporarily fill these growing vacancies until the “current crisis has passed”, said Mr Allen.

Fully vaccinated people in England will be exempt from isolating when they are alerted by the Test and Trace app from mid-August, but senior industry figures are warning that if more workers get told to stay at home following end of restrictions in England on Monday, it will wreak havoc on British businesses.

Mick Lynch, the head of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said that he expected to “see a surge in workers pinged with a self-isolation instruction next week”.

“Even at this late stage, the government, the train operators and the bus companies should issue a clear, legally-backed instruction that levels up the rest of the UK to the safety standards that will remain in force in Wales and Scotland,” he added.

Meanwhile, pubs and restaurants – which are already facing staffing shortages – said they might be forced to close if their workers continue to get pinged.

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UK Hospitality, said the industry was facing “significant staffing challenges”, with up to as many as a fifth of staff isolating at any one time.

Carmakers have also spoken out publicly about their concerns.

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Rolls-Royce said it was “approaching a critical point” due to workers having to self-isolate and may have to halve production if the trend continues.

The company, owned by Germany’s BMW, said it was “extremely concerned” at the number of staff at its manufacturing site in Goodwood, West Sussex, being ordered to stay at home because of alerts from the app.

Meanwhile, Nissan’s UK plant has been affected by the same issue with more than 700 workers at the site in Sunderland reportedly self-isolating.