Boss of Deeside based Iceland warns of ‘pingdemic chaos’ with supplies disrupted and shops forced to close
The managing director of Deeside based Iceland has said he is in the “unprecedented position” of being forced to close some stores because there aren’t enough people to staff them.
Richard Walker has said it’s not because workers everywhere are falling ill with Covid, writing in a Daily Mail column, he said Iceland workers have “fallen victim to the so-called pingdemic.”
Staff have received a notification from the NHS Test and Trace app and told that they must self-isolate at home for ten days following a potential contact with someone who has tested positive.
He said, “Right now, even though deaths and hospitalisations remain at very low levels, I am facing the biggest challenges to running my business since the pandemic began.”
The looming difficulties could result in disruption “even greater” than those the company faced during the panic-buying sprees of March 2020, “when shelves were stripped bare and trolleys piled high.” Mr Walker said.
“Today I am in the unprecedented position of being forced to close our stores because I do not have enough people to staff them.”
“I am also seeing our supplies disrupted by an acute shortage of HGV drivers. Deliveries to our online customers are being affected by the absence of trained pickers, supervisors and van drivers.” He said.
Mr Walker said every retailer in the country is facing the same issues, “as are those in other sectors including food production and hospitality.”
Meat processors are seeing up to one in 10 of their workforce told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app.
Some companies could be forced “to start shutting down production lines all together,” warned Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA).
Test and trace app isolation warnings are on the ‘verge of shutting’ factories across the UK, Unite union has warned.
Last week the Iceland boss tweeted Covid-related absences had been growing sharply.
With the so called ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19 – where the UK government plans to drop nearly all Covid restrictions in England, despite rising infection rates, Mr Walker said it will be a “ shit show for business” because self isolation rules will not be eased until 16 August.
Our Covid-related absences are growing exponentially. Within a week or two they’ll be the highest ever. Covid rules end 19 July. Self-isolation rules not eased until 16 August. This will be a shit show for business.
— Richard Walker (@icelandrichard) July 7, 2021
He said: “Right now, overall levels of absence from our stores are just about manageable because they are localised.”
“But with the total number of our staff off work increasing by an alarming 50 per cent last week alone — and set to go on rising — we can be sure that the difficulties we are experiencing in some areas will soon spread far more widely.” The managing director said.
Infections in the UK are predicted to hit 100,000 per day within the next two weeks, higher than the previous peak of around 60,000 new cases per day.
“The good news, of course, is that the link between new cases, serious illness, hospitalisations and deaths has been greatly weakened by Britain’s successful vaccine roll-out.” Said Mr Walker
But “just as retailers, pubs, restaurants and other businesses are looking forward to welcoming back many more customers, these same businesses face staffing challenges because of the self-isolation rules.”
“Frankly, the Test and Trace system is a mess.” He said.
“Those who want to work — or need to due to their financial situation — are tempted to ignore the notifications, particularly if they are symptomless and double vaccinated.”
“Others — reportedly including some Tory MPs — have deleted the app, either to avoid being ‘pinged’ or after receiving a notification to self-isolate.” He said.
“I’m sure my own colleagues are playing by the rules, but there is a mass of anecdotal evidence that not everyone is — and who can blame them?”
“To make matters worse, this is all taking place as millions have booked time off to spend with their families. Countless summer holidays are likely to be ruined by this scheme — which, I remind you, is not due to be repealed until the middle of August.” said Mr Walker.
According to estimates by the Adam Smith Institute, 4.6 million people per week could be forced to self-isolate until the rules are dropped.
He said that rather than being condemned to ten long days of self-isolation, “those informed they have been in contact with a positive case should be offered an immediate test and return to work if negative.”
“This simple change from Test and Trace to ‘Test to Release’ would turn a ten-day absence into one or two days, and provide huge relief to employers, employees and customers.”
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