Pubs and restaurants already hit by severe labour shortages are being forced to close due to the NHS Covid app repeatedly telling staff to self-isolate – which they must do so for up to ten days even if they test negative for Covid.
Hospitality bosses are calling for a ‘test and release’ scheme to relieve the crisis, which last week saw 75 members of staff at one Wetherspoons in Weston-super-Mare forced to stay at home after coming into contact with positive cases.
Covid cases are spiking at 20,000 a day amid the rise of the Delta variant, leading to an increase in the number of people receiving notifications to self-isolate.
However, hospitalisations and deaths are completely flat, showing that fewer people with Covid are falling badly sick thanks to the success of the vaccine rollout.
Small businesses are particularly struggling under the deluge of app notifications, with one restaurant in Liverpool revealing it lost a quarter of its workforce over the weekend on top of an existing labour shortage caused by Brexit and employees quitting over lockdown.
The nature of the NHS Covid app – which tells people to self-isolate if they have been in ‘close contact’ with someone who later tests positive – means hospitality staff walking around busy venues are particularly likely to receive notifications.
Close contact means being within two metres of a person who tested positive for the virus for 15 minutes or more or within one metre for one minute or more.
The Cabot Court Hotel, a Wetherspoon pub in Weston-super-Mare, saw 75 staff forced to self-isolate for 10 days last week after four of their colleagues tested positive. Pictured on the left is Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin
Chef Gary Usher has had to close his Manchester restaurant Kala twice because of staff being pinged by the Covid app
Dave Critchley, executive chef and director at Lu Ban restaurant and bar in Liverpool, told MailOnline: ‘We lost five people over the weekend at minimal notice after they were pinged by the app.
‘When you are only a small business anyway losing five members of staff meant we had lost a quarter of our workforce.
‘It was already a monumental task to take on this year to make up all the money we lost from last year because we’ve still got last year’s rent and bills to pay.
‘And this is at a time when staff problems are the worst they’ve ever been because of Brexit and people going into different jobs during lockdown.’
Industry body UKHospitality is urging the government to change the rules so staff can return to work after a negative tests.
The rules currently require a period of 10 days self-isolation after the day of coming into contact with the positive case – regardless of whether they then test negative.
Dave Critchley, executive chef and director at Lu Ban restaurant and bar in Liverpool, told MailOnline: ‘We lost five people over the weekend at minimal notice after they were pinged by the app’
The steakhouse and cocktail bar Hawksmoor has received 25 test and trace notifications within four weeks of reopening. Staff are testing three times a week and only one has reported a positive result
The nature of the NHS Covid app – which tells people to self-isolate if they have come within a certain distance of someone who later tests positive – means hospitality staff walking around busy venues are particularly likely to receive notifications
Mr Critchley backed the calls, adding: ‘We are seeing 45,000 people in stadiums with no mask and no social distancing and all they’ve had to do is take a test in the morning, so why can’t my staff do that.
‘We are testing our staff every day with a lateral flow test and temperature checks. So why can’t our staff still go into work if they’ve had a negative test?’
The Cabot Court Hotel, a Wetherspoon pub in Weston-super-Mare, saw 75 staff forced to self-isolate for 10 days last week after four of their colleagues tested positive.
Mark Derry, who sits on the board of several restaurant businesses including New World Trading Company in Cheshire, which has lost 35 days of trading from four of its 29 venues because of staff self-isolating.
‘It’s complete chaos,’ he told the Financial Times.
Will Beckett, co-founder of Hawksmoor, said the steakhouse and cocktail bar has received 25 test and trace notifications within four weeks of reopening.
Staff are testing three times a week and only one has reported a positive result.
Meanwhile, chef Gary Usher has had to close his Manchester restaurant Kala twice because of staff being pinged by the Covid app.
It will now stay shut until ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19. ‘Reopening and closing the restaurants costs so much money, energy and time, and we are just not able to do this again,’ his restaurant group, Elite Bistros, said.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry body UKHospitality, said the situation was ‘a nightmare’ for firms, particularly given many are already suffering a staffing shortage.
Her group is leading calls for a ‘test and release’ scheme which would see staff who were self-isolating could return to work if they had a negative test result.
The NHS Covid app has previously been criticised for glitches, including sending out phantom exposure alerts, causing unnecessary alarm and periods of self-isolation for users.
How jabs have tamed the third wave: Just one in 100 NHS beds now taken up by Covid patients in England compared to one in six at start of second surge in December
By Joe Davies for MailOnline
Just one in 100 NHS beds were being taken up by Covid patients in England last week — fourteen times fewer than at the start of the second wave, according to official figures that highlight the power of the vaccines.
MailOnline analysis of the latest NHS England figures show that out of the roughly 87,000 hospital beds at the health service’s disposal, fewer than 1,000 were being taken up by people suffering from coronavirus (1.1 per cent) on June 22.
The low inpatient numbers are made more impressive by the fact average daily infections have risen to more than 20,000 due to an outbreak of the ultra-infectious Indian variant.
Professor Chris Whitty told a meeting of the Cabinet yesterday that hospitals will be able to cope fine after Freedom Day because of the protective ring the jabs have thrown around the population.
The last time Britain was recording more than 20,000 daily cases and the outbreak was rising was in the second week of December, at the cusp of the second wave.
Daily Covid hospitalisations (green) are starting to creep up as a result of the Indian variant outbreak but the speed at which they are rising week-on-week has already started to slow (red line)
At that time one in six hospital beds across the health service in England (15 per cent) were being used by people struggling with the virus.
Now, even the worst hit region — the North West — is only seeing 2.4 per cent of its beds full with Covid patients. Covid occupancy is lowest in the South West, where fewer than one in 220 beds are occupied by people with the virus.
Britain’s positive test rate is also much lower than in the winter wave — down from five per cent in December to just two per cent now.
The encouraging data comes as England’s normally-cautious chief medical officer threw his weight behind ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19 by saying the NHS can cope with the expected rise in admissions.
Professor Whitty warned prolonging curbs would lead to a worse peak in winter and encouraged ministers to push ahead with plans to ease restrictions next month.
Speaking at a cabinet briefing yesterday, Professor Whitty said the data suggested Britain is on course to be able to lift lockdown measures in line with current plans.
The cautious expert, who has backed restrictions throughout the pandemic, said the current surge in infections was not causing a rise in hospitalisations, in a sign of the vaccine effect.
Allowing the virus to spread more easily now would cause less severe disease because people spend less time indoors and their immunity provided by recent vaccination is greater.
Professor Whitty’s comments came as Boris Johnson told cabinet Britain would have to learn to live with Covid in the same way as flu.
The Prime Minister highlighted that the link between infections and serious illness and deaths had been significantly weakened.
MailOnline’s analysis of official data shows the clear impact of the vaccines on keeping people out of hospital for extended periods of time.
On June 22 — the latest date regional data is available for — even the North West, which has the highest Covid bed occupancy in England, only one in 42 beds were occupied by Covid patients.
Just 307 of 12,932 beds are occupied by Covid patients — 2.37 per cent. It is followed by London (1.61 per cent), the North East and Yorkshire (1.03 per cent), the Midlands (0.87 per cent) and the East of England (0.58 per cent).
Covid occupancy is lowest in the South East (0.45 per cent) and South West (0.44 per cent).
In comparison, one in less than six beds (16.7 per cent) was taken up with Covid patients on December 14 in the Midlands, the worst affected region at the time.
Just one in 100 NHS beds are currently being taken up by Covid patients in England — fourteen times fewer than at the start of the second wave. Graph shows: The percentage of all hospital beds available to the NHS being taken up by Covid patients on June 22 this year (red bars) compared to on December 14 (blue bars), the last time infections were above 20,000 and rising
It was followed by the North West (16.3 per cent), South East (15.1 per cent), North East and Yorkshire (15.0 per cent), East of England (13.5 per cent), London (13.3 per cent) and South West (10.0 per cent).
Yesterday, cases surged above 20,000 for the second day in a row — after Monday’s figure marked a five-month high — but deaths dropped again by 14.8 per cent.
Speaking after the briefing yesterday, a cabinet source told The Times the data was ‘very encouraging’ and Professor Whitty seemed ‘cautiously optimistic’.
They said: ‘The view among the scientists was that we should get as much open this summer as possible before winter, which will be much more difficult.’