Supermarkets, transport and even the police… The epidemic of contact cases threatens to paralyze the activity of the United Kingdom, after the abandonment of almost all the restrictions in full explosion of contaminations and the pressure is mounting on the government to relax the rules of ‘isolation.
It is an epidemic within the pandemic, baptized pingdemic , pun between ping (receive a notification from the tracking application) and epidemic (epidemic). While the number of positive cases has skyrocketed for several weeks, flirting with 50,000 dailies, hundreds of thousands of contact cases are forced to isolate themselves for ten days, crippling the economy, from transport to food distribution.
In the week ending July 14 alone, more than 600,000 self-isolating notifications were sent by the UK tracking app. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Opposition Leader Keir Starmer are both in quarantine.
On the front page of almost the entire British press on Thursday, pictures of empty supermarket shelves are displayed. On Saturday, a line of the London Underground had to be interrupted for lack of sufficient staff in the control room. Some police forces have warned that response times would be extended. As the summer holidays approach, more than a million children have also been forced into self-isolation, forcing their parents to stay at home.
In question: the outbreak of contaminations fueled by the very contagious variant Delta in the United Kingdom, one of the countries in Europe most affected by COVID-19 with almost 129,000 deaths.
Despite this new rising wave, the government on Monday lifted almost all health restrictions in place in England, abandoning the distancing and compulsory wearing of the mask, building on the progress of a vaccination campaign that allows for time to limit the number of hospitalizations and deaths.
He is now in a hurry to act quickly to prevent this “pingdemic” from turning into chaos.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC), a federation of distributors, urged him to relax the rules on contact cases, stressing that stores were forced to close or reduce their opening hours, or were struggling to stock shelves.
“The most important thing this government can do is recognize that the current situation is untenable,” said Chief Executive Officer Helen Dickinson.
Iceland, a supermarket chain specializing in frozen foods, has indicated that it will have to recruit 2,000 temporary workers to make up for the lack of staff. Its managing director Richard Walker however called on the BBC customers not to engage in panic purchases, the empty shelves remaining according to him “isolated incidents”.
Motor hauliers, central in supplying stores, have also said they face a labor shortage, accentuating a chronic shortage attributed in part to Brexit, as have meat processors.
Deliberately ignoring official guidelines, distributor Bidfood on Thursday called on its drivers to continue working even if notified, with a negative PCR test.
“Limited” list of exemptions
While calling for continued compliance with the rules, the government has promised to exempt some essential workers. Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng told the BBC that the list would be published on Thursday – which the executive still ruled out earlier this week – but that it would be “very limited”.
This is already the case since Monday for vaccinated employees of the public health service (NHS) “in exceptional circumstances”, provided a negative test.
These precautions are even less understood as from August 16 the obligation to isolate themselves for fully vaccinated people should be lifted.
On Wednesday, Boris Johnson apologized to companies for the “inconvenience” caused. But he himself was accused of maintaining the confusion: contact case of his Minister of Health, he first intended to avoid isolation by participating in a pilot program allowing to test himself daily. He had quickly turned around in the face of the outcry.
Around half of Britons would not self-isolate if they test negative after contact with a positive case, and 10% have already removed the tracking app, according to YouGov polls released earlier this week.