Posted: 30/07/2021

‘Pingdemic’ could force small retailers into summer closures


Fine food retailers are living in fear of having to close their doors this summer due to the ‘pingdemic’,as COVID-19 isolation rules remain in place despite the phased re-opening of the economy.

Analysis by think tank the Adam Smith Institute suggested almost two million people could be asked to stay at home – via the NHS Test and Trace app – every week as restrictions are eased and the virus’s Delta variant continues to spread rapidly.

The British Independent Retailers Association said some of its members had already been forced to shut due to staff isolations, which the body said were “a real problem”. 

Chief executive Andrew Goodacre said small food retailers with low levels of space and staff faced a double whammy of high isolation numbers and a lack of replacement workers. Even beyond 16th August, when forced contact-based isolation is dropped for the fully vaccinated and under 18s in England, many shop workers will fall between these groups and remain at risk of stay-at-home orders.

“We need an urgent solution,” said Goodacre. “We are asking for financial support for businesses forced to close. I do not believe it is any different from a lockdown when simply following Government instructions regarding self-isolation results in a closure.”

Clare Jackson, director of Suffolk-based Slate Cheese, said she had cancelled an appointment to attend an event in London recently, not for fear of contracting the virus but to minimise her risk of a damaging isolation request if she came into close contact with someone with COVID-19.

“We are walking on eggshells,” she said. “In a small business in these busy months, we cannot operate if we lose a member of staff. We have a policy of no holiday during July or August because we are at full stretch.

“If a full-time member of staff had to isolate we’d most likely have to close as we wouldn’t be able to cope with demand. It is a real issue for small businesses with limited teams.” 

Mark Kacary, managing director at The Norfolk Deli, said it would be “impossible” for him or his wife and business partner to run the shop on their own if one of the pair was told to isolate. 

“We are a small, family-run business,” he said. “To close the shop for 10 days would cause a lot of food waste.

“My wife and I have both been double jabbed so, surely, if people can come back from amber-list countries without going into quarantine, then it would be total nonsense to ask us to isolate for contact reasons. Maybe asking us to produce a test every two days for a week or fortnight would be a better alternative.”

“I do not see any compensation being offered for this.” 

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