Industry leaders are demanding the government address widespread staff shortages caused by self-isolation of workers en masse after being ‘pinged’ by NHS testing and traceability.
Online fashion retailer Asos on Thursday joined automakers Nissan and Rolls-Royce on a rapidly growing list of companies grappling with disruption caused by absent staff.
From August 16, those who have received both doses of a vaccine, or who are under 18, will not have to self-isolate if they come into contact with a person who tests positive for Covid- 19.
But parts of the economy are at risk of shutting down long before that date, industry executives have warned, amid predictions that the growing number of cases could force more than a million people to stay at home.
The problem is particularly acute in retail, hospitality and manufacturing, where only a limited number of employees can work from home, resulting in significant disruption or, in some cases, site closures.
Industry insiders say up to 30% of the workforce is absent in some parts of the country, while the retail average is closer to 10%.
Distribution centers, head offices and stores are all suffering from staffing issues caused by NHS test and traceability alerts.
On Thursday, the boss of online fashion seller Asos, Nick Beighton, said there had been “a lot of testing and streaking” at the group’s London headquarters and its distribution center in Barnsley.
“It’s very frustrating for the staff and for us. Even people who have been double stung have to self-isolate, ”he said.
The comments came after Richard Walker, the boss of the Icelandic grocery chain, said coronavirus-related staff absences “were increasing exponentially” while Sainsbury’s reported an “increase in absences” in recent weeks.
Another industry insider said less than 10% of its staff are currently self-isolating, but the company feared that could drop to 30% in a matter of weeks.
Yet another said it was a ‘big deal’ as the number of absentees had skyrocketed in recent weeks due to a combination of people being interviewed by the NHS app or falling ill.
At least one large supermarket chain is said to have encountered serious difficulties in its distribution center due to the need for staff to isolate themselves.
Retailers are also struggling to maintain stock, as self-isolation issues exacerbate staff shortages caused by Brexit and Covid-related travel restrictions at food processing factories, farms and businesses in delivery.
In the past 24 hours, Nissan and luxury automaker Rolls-Royce have confirmed they are facing difficulties due to the absence of staff.
A spokesperson for BMW-owned Rolls-Royce said it was still operating at full production at its Goodwood plant, but was “reaching a somewhat critical point” at which a shift should stop. , halving production.
Nissan said areas at its Sunderland plant, which employs 6,000 people, had already been “adjusted” due to staff self-isolation.
“The well-being of our team is our number one priority and we remain confident in the rigorous security checks we have on site,” said a spokesperson.
Sources in the manufacturing industry have said that other companies are suffering as well, but do not want to say so publicly for fear of scaring customers and losing business.
Industrial trade body Make UK said a growing number of its members were suffering from a negative impact on production, with up to 20% of staff isolated, and urged the government to rethink the August date. to which the rules will be relaxed, as an “immediate priority”.
Make UK chief executive Stephen Phipson said the situation “is likely to worsen with the lifting of restrictions next week”.
The Unite union said some factories were already severely understaffed.
Pubs, bars and restaurants are badly affected as staff come into contact with so many people.
Up to 20% of the industry’s workforce is isolated, according to the UK Hospitality trade body, which has warned that this could drop to one in three within weeks. Its chief executive, Kate Nicholls, has called on the government to consider allowing staff who test negative to continue working.
Meanwhile, many restaurants, bars and brasseries across the country have said they have had to close their doors or reduce their opening hours due to a sudden shortage of staff.
The UK’s largest pub company Stonegate said 1,000 employees were on leave and 15 of its 4,800 locations were closed, while Greene King, which has 2,700 pubs, is also reportedly struggling to keep all of them. its open pubs.
Other businesses affected include 173-strong Loungers cafe and bar chain, Cornwall’s St Austell Brewery, London-based steak and cocktail chain Hawksmoor, and Oxfordshire brewery and brewery company Brakspear .