Retailers fear ‘pingdemic’ could be ‘devastating’ for business

KBB retailers around the country are concerned that their businesses could grind to a halt if their staff are pinged by the NHS app and required to self-isolate for 10 days.

‘A nightmare’, devastating’ and ‘the biggest crisis we are facing’ were just some of the comments from retailers surveyed by kbbreview about the ‘pingdemic’.

As the rules stand, any showroom staff or installer pinged by the NHS Test and Trace app must self-isolate for 10 days. There is already evidence of empty supermarket shelves as the number of pings from the app has grown dramatically following the removal of Covid-19 restrictions on July 19.

In fact, Iceland has reported it is recruiting 2,000 spare staff after it was forced to reduce opening hours and close stores. The consequences of the pingdemic may not be as obvious in KBB showrooms – but an order book full of projects that can’t be installed because of self-isolating fitters can be just as catastrophic for the businesses concerned.

Things may be set to get better from August 16, although that date is not set in stone, as those who have been double-vaccinated will not have to isolate when pinged and can take daily tests instead.

But KBB businesses are worried now. This is a busy time for them and many are still struggling from the impact of previous lockdowns, an overstretched supply chain and inflated demand.

We asked retailers to share, in confidence, how they felt it would affect their businesses and staff. One told kbbreview: “The knock-on effect will be far more devastating than it may first appear. We employ the majority of our staff, so we will be hit the hardest. Those who subcontract will undoubtedly not have the same costs to bear. This is where the Government should be helping more and forced time off for a greater good should not be penalised by income shortfall.”

Many other retailers who responded also feared for the impact on their businesses. One said: “A member of our team having to isolate could force the whole business to close down. As a close-knit operation, any member of our team, from our employed installers to warehouse and internal staff, could meet up with each other during normal business and thus force a self-isolation issue.”

“Potentially the biggest crisis at the minute” is how one worried retailer summed up the situation, while another felt the NHS app needed to be changed. They said: “The Test and Trace App needs to be adapted and potentially made less sensitive as the country reopens and restrictions have been lifted. Of course, staff and installers being pinged and ‘recommended’ to isolate for 10 days is a concern and this will create ongoing issues for everyone.”

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One Scottish retailer was placing their faith in double-jabbing: “We have already had members of the team having to isolate – although our design and admin functions can mostly work from home, our tradesmen are vulnerable. With the levels of new enquiries and workload at a peak, and our installations team working to such a tight schedule to gratify the backlog of customers who we couldn’t fit for at the beginning of the year, it’s a real concern. As a greater amount of the population become ‘double-jabbed’, hopefully the Government will review the necessity to isolate.” 

Our quick straw poll also asked retailers how they were proceeding post-July 19 in terms of abandoning previous restrictions.

The numbers show most are keeping them in place. Almost nine-out-of-10 (87%) plan to keep previous safety routines in operation, while more than three-quarters (77%) said their customers also wanted them to. More than two-thirds (68%) said they would continue to operate by appointment only, while 97% were worried about the effects of staff having to self-isolate. Almost half (45%) thought the Government had gone too far too soon.

The British Retail Consortium HAS called for the Government to change its self-isolation guidance. Said Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC: “Government needs to act fast. Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double-vaccinated or can show a negative Covid test. With community cases soaring, the number of healthy retail staff having to self-isolate is rising fast, disrupting retail operations.”

Its pleas seem to have been answered. Speaking to ITV Good Morning Britain on Friday (July 23), the Environment Secretary George Eustice confirmed that the Government had agreed to exemptions from self-isolation for workers in the food supply chain, who would now be allowed to undergo daily tests instead.

He also said that as of Monday (July 26), individual business could apply for exemption, but he added that the sectors eligible would be “very narrow”, although he did not specify which they might be.

The BiKBBI is lobbying the Government later today on this issue.

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