Pingdemic chaos as petrol stations close, supermarkets run low on stock and pubs close early

THE pingdemic is wreaking havoc across the UK as petrol stations shut, supermarkets get increasingly low on stock and pub hours are cut short.

Hundreds of thousands of workers are isolating after being pinged by the NHS COVID app, bringing businesses to their knees with staffing crises.

Petrol stations are closing down as disruptions to supply chains causes a shortage in fuel at some branches.

Meanwhile, supermarkets have begged customers not to clear out aisles after alarming photos showed empty shelves.

Some hospitality businesses are closing temporarily while others are reducing operating hours to cater to the reduced staff.

Business leaders and trade bodies continue to call on the government to take action and change the sensitivity of the NHS app.

Elsewhere, today the pingdemic has:

  • Caused chaos to delivery and postal services in at least 12 areas.
  • Sparked fears transport and waste services could be suspended.
  • Seen figures emerge showing more than 600,000 Brits told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid-19 App in just one week
  • Led to shortages of grocery products in supermarkets like bottled water, fruit and veg.

Environment Secretary George Eustice tried to downplay the disruptions on Thursday, saying: "The recent hot weather has increased demand for some items, like bottled water, and staff absences have increased but remain lower than seen earlier in the pandemic."

However, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng admitted that he is "very concerned" about food shortages.

Here we take a look at how services, shops and businesses have been affected.

🔵 Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest updates

Petrol station closures

BP said it had closed several sites temporarily due to shortages in fuel.

The fuel retailer said this has been caused by a lack of lorry drivers as well as the closure of a fuel distribution terminal where too many staff were self-isolate – although it has now reopened.

BP added that just a handful are being closed each day and the problems are getting sorted out within 24 hours.

But this also means that drivers should be aware that different stations could close unexpectedly day to day.

In a statement, BP said: "Our supply chain has been impacted primarily by the industry-wide driver shortages across the UK.

"We are working hard with our haulier supplier to deliver fuel into sites and minimise any disruption to our customers. We apologise for any inconvenience caused," it added.

Shell told the Sun that it has yet to see any disruptions to its operations but they are monitoring the situation closely.

Supermarkets and shops

Iceland is the first supermarket that has been forced to close several of its stores this week due to more than 1,000 of its staff self-isolating, amounting to around 4% of its workforce.

The supermarket's boss Richard Walker said the cost-cutting store was hiring 2,000 temp workers plug the "exponential rise in pinging". 

But he said dramatic pictures of bare shelves was not "widespread" – and it was the "Government who should be panicking" as the pingdemic rips.

Marks and Spencer also warned customers that if it sees staff shortages, it may have to change the opening hours of its stores.

Other supermarkets have warned of widespread shortages in products like, bottled water and fresh fruit and veg.

Sainsbury's said it was seeing shortages of products – although this might be on a specific cut of meat or type of bread so there are still alternatives available.

Mitchells & Butlers has seen 40 venues across all its brands, which include O'Neill's, Harvester and Toby Carvery, affected or forced to closed due to Test and Trace staff shortages.

Greggs has also had to close a small number of stores and is reviewing the situation on a shop by shop basis, following track and trace guidance, the Sun understands.

The closures are not long term and the bakery chain's flexible business model allows it to move staff around.

Argos said its stores are operating as usual but their maybe low stock for some products.

The retailer said: “We are working hard to ensure customers can find what they need.

"While we might not always have the exact product a customer is looking for in every store, large quantities of products are being delivered to stores daily and our colleagues are focused on getting them onto the shelves as quickly as they can.”

Andrew Opie, director of Food & Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “The ongoing ‘pingdemic’ is putting increasing pressure on retailers’ ability to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked.

"Government needs to act fast. Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double vaccinated or can show a negative Covid test, to ensure there is no disruption to the public’s ability to get food and other goods."

Pubs and restaurants

Pub chain Wetherspoons also warned it had a couple of hundred staff off.

It has so far not had to close any sites but in a few cases, like the Golden Lion in Rochester, some have had to reduce operating hours.

Meanwhile, Greene King said it has had to close 33 pubs in the past week due to staff shortages while Young's last week said 350 of its staff were self isolating due to COVID rules.

Up to 25% of staff at some businesses in the food and drink industry are self-isolating after being pinged by the NHS Test and Trace app, according to Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation,

He told Sky News: "I think the situation is concerning and it's up and down the supply chain."

"This is partly as a result of structural labour shortages but increasingly the cause is pinging, and it's getting worse, there is no question about that," he added.

Wright said the issue was posing a big problem to abattoirs, distribution and to service staff in the hospitality sector.

"These are not consistent in every part of the country, in every part of the supply chain, but where it's happening, it's bad."

Deliveries and postal services

Deliveries of letters and packages have been also disrupted after a wave of postal staff have been forced into Covid self-isolation.

Royal Mail service alerts were issued for eight locations alone over the weekend, from Bath to Blackpool.

The service is also warning of disruption to postal services in 12 areas in total at the moment.

In a message on its website, Royal Mail apologised to customers for the inconvenience and said it will prioritise the delivery of Covid vaccination letters and test kits.

It said that it "aims deliver at least every other day in these areas, though this may not always be possible in offices temporarily affected by very high levels of absence".

A Royal Mail spokesperson told The Sun: "The health and safety of our colleagues and our customers is our number one priority.

"In a limited number of areas, we are experiencing some disruption to service due to Covid related absences.

"In impacted areas, we are focused on providing as comprehensive a service as possible to our customers."

Waste collection services

Local councils across the country have announced that waste and rubbish collection services have been suspended or delayed, according to local media reports.

Many areas have seen disruptions to garden waste collections, including Liverpool, Solihull, Folkestone and Hythe, Copeland, Reading, Somerset and Bristol, which has suspended services until September.

Meanwhile, other disruptions include green and food waste collection services in West Berkshire, recycling services in Doncaster, and delays to general waste in Oxford.

A Local Government Association spokesperson said: “Councils know how important waste and recycling is to their residents and have been working hard throughout the pandemic to keep these services running as best as possible.

“Local authorities and their contractors have a duty of care to their employees and must adhere to government guidelines on self-isolating when staff show symptoms of COVID-19 or are in close contact with someone who has tested positive.

“While most councils have been able to keep services running, many could possibly face difficult decisions and must prioritise services designed to protect the most vulnerable in their communities.”

Transport and breakdown services

Critical transport services risk being crippled by staffing crises as record numbers of workers were forced to isolate.

In an urgent intervention this lunchtime, Sadiq Khan warned the pingdemic could grind the capital's services to a halt.

The Mayor told the Standard: "I am increasingly concerned about our ability to maintain current levels of absolutely crucial services like public transport, food supplies and bin collections."

On the weekend, transport networks including the London Underground, Northern Rail services and buses in East Yorkshire faced disruptions due to the pingdemic.

Meanwhile, Tim Morris, the chief executive of UK Major Ports Group, said a number of big port operators had reported 10% of their staff being work.

Roadside recovery services have also been hit with the AA's boss Jakob Pfaudler recently emailing customers to apologise to those who "may have had a longer wait than usual".

He said the delays occurred because call centres had been "impacted by the recent surge in the Delta variant".

It comes as Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng also revealed that workers will find out today if they are exempt from self-isolating after being pinged.

Meanwhile, we take a look at the businesses which have had to close due to the pingdemic.

In just one week, more than 600,000 Brits were told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid-19 App, according to NHS figures. 

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