PandemicU.K. COVID “Pingdemic” Sparks Labor Shortage

By Nik Martin

Published 27 July 2021

More than 600,000 people have been pinged by the U.K.’s coronavirus warning app and told to self-isolate. Business leaders warn that the lack of available workers is putting the economic recovery at risk.

The UK government is racing to address a major labor shortage exacerbated by the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although more than 70% of the adult population (36 million people) has been double-vaccinated against the coronavirus, an easing of restrictions is fueling a new surge in cases and, therefore, mass self-isolation.

British media have said the country is in the midst of a “pingdemic,” where rising numbers of people are alerted or pinged by the coronavirus warning app.

The app, which notifies users if they have come into contact with someone who has since tested positive for COVID, advises them to self-isolate for 10 days. In one week in mid-July, 618,903 people in England and Wales received the notification and were forced to leave work and quarantine.

Fresh Setback for Struggling Ffirms
The lack of staff is a major headache for several sectors of the British economy. For example, companies in the food supply chain that underpins the country’s supermarket network have reported entire production lines and driver fleets are halted. One report suggested that 90,000 truck drivers are currently unavailable for work.

Empty supermarket shelves are being witnessed all over the country, and in many other sectors, stores, pubs, restaurants and offices have had to close or reduce hours. Hospitals, too, are seeing a large number of staff absences, while rail and bus companies have cut services due to a lack of drivers.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) has forecast a £4.6 billion (€5.39 billion, $6.35 billion) hit to the UK economy from the pingdemic over the next month. The worker squeeze is being felt just as the UK’s economic recovery from the pandemic is losing steam.

The country’s purchasing manager’s index (PMI) dropped from 62.2 to 57.7 in July. “Employment growth eased to its slowest since March, with survey respondents often citing a lack of candidates to fill vacancies and an unusually large number of staff departures,” Duncan Brock, group director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS), told DW. The PMI is produced by CIPS and research house IHS Markit.

A growing chorus of business leaders has urged the UK government to bring forward the end of self-isolation rules for contacts of positive COVID cases. The measure is due to run out on August 16, by when British newspaper The Guardian projected that as many as 2 million people could have tested COVID positive and up to 10 million workers — a third of the UK working population — may be forced to quarantine.