Retailers hit as workers forced to isolate due to being “pinged” by virus app

NHS Covid app

Retail leaders are among those to call on the Government to speed up changes to self-isolation rules as it is estimated that some are struggling with up to 30% of staff off work with Covid-19 or because they are isolating.

ASOS chief executive Nick Beighton said the company had been hit by absences at its London headquarters and at its warehouse and the industry has warned that the situation will only get worse when Covid restrictions are further lifted on 19 July.

“This will only get worse right across the economy, as cases are already rising fast and the final restrictions are eased,” said British Retail Consortium (BRC) CEO Helen Dickinson told Bloomberg.

The government needs to bring forward the time when fully vaccinated people or those with a negative test no longer need to quarantine when “pinged” by the test and trace app, Dickinson said.

As Covid-19 cases soar in the UK, more than 500,000 people have been “pinged” by the NHS app in the past week. The app pings people whose phone has been in the vicinity of someone who is known to have tested positive for Covid-19 for 15 minutes or more.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said that from 16 August, those who have been fully vaccinated with two doses will no longer need to self-isolate if they are pinged, and will instead be able to take a test and continue to work if negative.

Business leaders want this date brought forward and are urging the Government to retain restrictions such as the wearing of masks on public transport and in shops to keep staff and workers safe.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said: “Staff shortages will only get worse unless people are kept safe at work.

“The Government urgently needs to toughen its confusing and inadequate back-to-work safety guidance – starting with making masks a legal requirement on public transport and in shops.

“If we are to stop Covid-19 ripping through workplaces, workers must be able to afford to self-isolate. Government must urgently raise sick pay to the level of the real living wage and make sure everyone can get it.”

Some supermarkets, including Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Morrisons and Waitrose, have already announced they will be encouraging staff and shoppers to continue to wear masks in-store.

RetailTRUST CEO Chris Brook-Carter said that leaving the wearing of masks in shops as a matter of retailer discretion would place more stress on retail workers and risks a further increase in the abuse of shop workers.

“We’re concerned about the uncertainty facing shop workers as well as others in the hospitality and travel sectors from Monday. Removing these legal requirements will increase anxiety among staff and could lead to another rise in customer disputes. It’s understandable why some people are feeling very uneasy about going into work next week, and we’ve seen a 25% increase in calls from retail workers to the Retail Trust’s wellbeing helpline since the start of this month.

“Businesses have to continue to support their employees’ wellbeing, as well as do everything they can to keep everyone safe, and it is important they provide the right training and support to help colleagues deal with the uncertainty and potential conflict these changes will create. They should also listen to what their staff have to say about rules around mask wearing or social distancing in the days and weeks ahead and it is positive to see that many shops and businesses are already providing some of the clarity people need by keeping these safety measures in place for the time being.

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