London Mayor Sadiq Khan has urged Boris Johnson to end self-isolation rules for people who are fully vaccinated as the “pingdemic” continues to cripple the UK.
Mr Johnson has planned a wider relaxation of the quarantine rules to end isolation for the double-jabbed and under-18s from August 16 if they prove to be negative for coronavirus.
But there is some cross party-support for a swifter change, with Conservative former health secretary Jeremy Hunt having warned the Government it faces “losing social consent” for isolation if it does not act now.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the Labour mayor teamed up with industry bodies including UKHospitality and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the capital’s branch of the Federation of Small Businesses to demand change.
Amid rising coronavirus cases, they warned that staff shortages in pubs and restaurants are being “exacerbated” and leading to temporary closure as a result of pings from the NHS Covid-19 app.
“The summer months are crucial for many businesses’ recovery and their ability to recover must not be put in jeopardy,” they said.
“We are therefore calling on you to ensure that the necessary testing is in place to enable people who have been double vaccinated for longer than two weeks and pinged by the NHS Covid app, to immediately return to work, following a negative PCR test, rather than having to self-isolate.”
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed Covid-19 cases continued to rise, with around one in 75 people in England infected.
The estimate of the number testing positive – 741,700 – in the week to July 17 is the highest since the week to January 30.
In the emergency measures to protect supplies, around 10,000 workers in the food sector were expected to be included in the scheme for fully vaccinated workers to be exempt from isolation if they test negative. Others in key sectors of the economy and vital public services were also included.
But British Frozen Food Federation chief executive Richard Harrow raised concerns that more workers may be freed up in some areas of the supply chain but not others such as in supermarkets.
“It shows that yet again Government does not understand how connected the food supply chain is. Only opening part is unlikely to solve the overall issue. Plus, who is in and who is out, who decides and how do they decide?” he said.
“Confusion continues to pervade and I have been advised no list until Monday. This is worse than useless.”
Iceland managing director Richard Walker said he was “deeply disappointed to see supermarket store workers omitted from the list”.
To facilitate the new isolation rules for critical workers, the Government said daily testing for workplaces in the food supply chain was being extended to frontline emergency services and some transport workers.
But reduced timetables were being introduced on railways across England to improve reliability after a spate of last-minute cancellations due to staff self-isolating, with more than 600,000 people in England and Wales told to quarantine by the app in the week to July 14.
Transport for London warned of line closures and cancellations this weekend, with more than 300 members of staff isolating, while Thameslink, Southern and Avanti West Coast will have slimmed down services from Monday.
One industry not to feature in the exemptions list was hospitality, with its trade association warning the sector will have “one hand tied behind our back” as staff are forced into isolation over Covid-19 contacts during what should be the peak season.
Calling for a “more pragmatic solution”, UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “We now face a summer of venue closures and reduced service, when we should be at a seasonal peak. The sector will do all it can to provide great service, but it will be with one hand tied behind our back.
“Those who are fully vaccinated should be able to test after a ping and, subject to a negative result, carry on with their lives. For those not fully vaccinated two negative tests should be sufficient to return to work.”
The British Medical Association said the problem was not the “excessive pinging” of the NHS Covid-19 app but that the Government’s coronavirus strategy has caused “rocketing case numbers”.
Its council chairman, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said isolation numbers are the “direct result of lack of effective measures by Government that is allowing the virus to let rip throughout the nation”.
The Local Government Association said directors of public health were already being overwhelmed with queries from employers who believe their staff should be exempt.