Tube ‘pingdemic’ chaos as TfL closes Circle line and the Hammersmith and City Line for whole weekend

Transport for London has been forced to close both the Circle and Hammersmith and City Tube lines for the entire weekend after 300 staff were ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid tracking app. 

There will also be changes to the District and Metropolitan lines and short cancellations elsewhere as the so-called ‘pingdemic’ continues to bring transport networks to their knees. 

Reduced timetables will also hit railways across England in a bid to improve reliability following a spate of last-minute cancellations. 

It comes as ministers have tried to cool rising tensions and warnings of food shortages by unveiling plans to exempt 10,000 critical workers from the self-isolation rules – but some industry bosses say the measures do not go far enough. 

London Underground managing director Andy Lord said: ‘We apologise to customers for the impact on Tube services, while we deal with staff shortages across the network due to self-isolation.

‘We are committed to running a frequent and reliable service, but with a reduced number of staff available it’s not always possible.

'Pingdemic' means Circle and Hammersmith and City lines closed for entire weekend - there will also be changes to the District and Metropolitan lines and short cancellations elsewhere

'Pingdemic' means Circle and Hammersmith and City lines closed for entire weekend - there will also be changes to the District and Metropolitan lines and short cancellations elsewhere

‘Pingdemic’ means Circle and Hammersmith and City lines closed for entire weekend – there will also be changes to the District and Metropolitan lines and short cancellations elsewhere

‘I’d encourage anyone travelling in the coming days to check before they travel and thank them for bearing with us during this difficult time.’   

A staggering 600,000-plus people in England and Wales were instructed to self-isolate by the coronavirus app in the week to July 14 – and at least several hundred of them were transport workers. 

The exemptions cover 16 groups: energy, civil nuclear, digital infrastructure, food production and supply, waste, water, veterinary medicines, essential chemicals, essential transport, medicines, medical devices, clinical consumable supplies, emergency services, border control, essential defence and local government

The exemptions cover 16 groups: energy, civil nuclear, digital infrastructure, food production and supply, waste, water, veterinary medicines, essential chemicals, essential transport, medicines, medical devices, clinical consumable supplies, emergency services, border control, essential defence and local government

The exemptions cover 16 groups: energy, civil nuclear, digital infrastructure, food production and supply, waste, water, veterinary medicines, essential chemicals, essential transport, medicines, medical devices, clinical consumable supplies, emergency services, border control, essential defence and local government

Thameslink and Southern has been forced to cut its weekday timetables on five routes from Monday ‘until further notice’ – and warned further changes could be required, including at weekends.

Steve White, chief operating officer at parent company Govia Thameslink Railway, said: ‘Regrettably, we have had to make the difficult decision to reduce some weekday services.

‘Unfortunately, like other industries across the country, coronavirus continues to affect our operations.

‘We have fewer colleagues available at the moment due to a significant increase recently in the number of our people affected by Covid-19.

‘Our colleagues have continued to work tirelessly throughout the pandemic and we’re really sorry for any inconvenience caused by the latest changes.

‘By bringing in a reduced timetable now, it will help to reduce short-notice cancellations and give customers more certainty.

‘We strongly advise passengers to check before they travel, including at weekends.’

It comes as Avanti West Coast is also cutting trains from Monday on its routes between London Euston and Manchester, Birmingham and North Wales.

A spokesman said this is to ‘manage staff shortages and ensure a reliable service’.

In total, when children sent home to isolate from school are included, there were up to 2.3million people told to quarantine last week - or 3 per cent of the entire population

In total, when children sent home to isolate from school are included, there were up to 2.3million people told to quarantine last week - or 3 per cent of the entire population

In total, when children sent home to isolate from school are included, there were up to 2.3million people told to quarantine last week – or 3 per cent of the entire population

Underlining the threat this morning, closely-watched PMI figures suggested the economy has drastically slowed down this month - with managers blaming shortages of workers and raw materials

Underlining the threat this morning, closely-watched PMI figures suggested the economy has drastically slowed down this month - with managers blaming shortages of workers and raw materials

Underlining the threat this morning, closely-watched PMI figures suggested the economy has drastically slowed down this month – with managers blaming shortages of workers and raw materials

Blue bars show the number of 'pings' sent by the NHS app each week; red bars show the number of people contacted by Test and Trace call handlers; and yellow bars show the number of people who tested positive for Covid

Blue bars show the number of 'pings' sent by the NHS app each week; red bars show the number of people contacted by Test and Trace call handlers; and yellow bars show the number of people who tested positive for Covid

Blue bars show the number of ‘pings’ sent by the NHS app each week; red bars show the number of people contacted by Test and Trace call handlers; and yellow bars show the number of people who tested positive for Covid

Infections were rising in England by about 67 per cent on June 30, for example, and at the same time the number of alerts sent to phones rose by 63 per cent. Even earlier this month ‘pings’ were rising in line with cases – infections rose by 48 per cent on July 7 while alerts jumped by 46 per cent. But by July 14, cases across England were rising at twice the rate of alerts – with a 34 per cent increase in infections compared to the 17 per cent rise in pings that reached phones

Data shows 600,000 alerts were sent by the NHS app in the week ending July 14, a 17 per cent rise increase on the previous seven days and another record high. The red line show the cumulative number of tracing alerts sent throughout the pandemic, while the blue bars represent the number each week

Data shows 600,000 alerts were sent by the NHS app in the week ending July 14, a 17 per cent rise increase on the previous seven days and another record high. The red line show the cumulative number of tracing alerts sent throughout the pandemic, while the blue bars represent the number each week

Data shows 600,000 alerts were sent by the NHS app in the week ending July 14, a 17 per cent rise increase on the previous seven days and another record high. The red line show the cumulative number of tracing alerts sent throughout the pandemic, while the blue bars represent the number each week

Meanwhile London Northwestern Railway will introduce a revised timetable with fewer services from Saturday.

The firm’s customer experience director Lawrence Bowman said: ‘No-one wants to see trains being cancelled, particularly at short notice.

‘But we are experiencing more of this, across all our services, as increasing numbers of staff are getting pinged by the Test and Trace app.

‘We are sorry that we have had to make the decision to alter some services.

‘However, the changes will help us run a more reliable and consistent timetable for passengers across our network.’

Northern said it is ‘expecting disruption’ this weekend due to ‘more people being asked to self-isolate’.

Routes in and out of Sheffield are likely to be the worst hit.

Rail networks across the country have announced timetable changes following staff shortages due to hundreds of workers being pinged by the NHS Covid tracking app

Rail networks across the country have announced timetable changes following staff shortages due to hundreds of workers being pinged by the NHS Covid tracking app

Rail networks across the country have announced timetable changes following staff shortages due to hundreds of workers being pinged by the NHS Covid tracking app 

The operator said: ‘Our teams work really hard to find cover for services, however we find it more difficult to find cover for isolating colleagues over the weekends.’

Meanwhile ScotRail said a ‘very limited number of trains’ have been cancelled due to staff shortages, but it has not amended its timetables.

A spokeswoman for industry body the Rail Delivery Group said: ‘Rail companies are working hard to keep passengers safely on the move as restrictions ease and more people travel to work or to see friends and family.

‘As cases increase more rail employees are being pinged by the NHS contact tracing app and being asked to self-isolate.

‘While train companies are doing everything they can to minimise any disruption, there may be an impact on services, so we are asking people to check before they travel using app alerts which were upgraded during the pandemic as part of our safer travel pledge.’

It comes after a Government minister today refused to commit to scrapping self-isolation for the double-jabbed from August 16 – despite fears the ‘pingdemic’ is already strangling the UK’s recovery. 

Environment Secretary George Eustice risked fuelling fury among businesses and MPs as he declined to give a categorical commitment that the exemption will take effect as planned for those who have been in contact with a positive case. 

The evasive stance came as ministers tried to cool rising tensions and warnings of food shortages by unveiling plans to exempt 10,000 critical workers from the self-isolation rules. 

Mr Eustice said staff at around 500 sites including supermarket depots will no longer need to quarantine if they come into contact with a positive Covid case. 

He stressed that firms will not need to apply to be covered by the ‘big exemption’. The change will take effect for the first 15 locations today.

However, supermarket store staff will not benefit from the get-out clause, and Mr Eustice incurred the wrath of other sectors that are being hammered as he made clear there is no prospect of hospitality staff getting the same treatment. A separate system will apply for a smaller group of workers in essential areas like nuclear power and defence – with calls for that list to be expanded.

Pressure is mounting on the government to go further as PMI figures suggested the economy has drastically slowed down this month – with managers blaming absence of workers and shortages of raw materials. Although the index indicated growth continuing, the reading was the lowest since the lockdown started easing in March.   

Industry groups complained that the exemption scheme showed ministers did not ‘understand how connected the food supply chain is’ and were ‘worse than useless’ because there is no clarity about who will be covered. Councils said services were at risk from the wave of self-isolation and train timetables are also being cut back.

Out of stock items left several shelves empty at a Morrisons in Exeter on Friday

Out of stock items left several shelves empty at a Morrisons in Exeter on Friday

Out of stock items left several shelves empty at a Morrisons in Exeter on Friday 

Several fruit and vegetable items were out of stock at a Morrisons in Exeter after the 'pingdemic' affected supply chains

Several fruit and vegetable items were out of stock at a Morrisons in Exeter after the 'pingdemic' affected supply chains

Several fruit and vegetable items were out of stock at a Morrisons in Exeter after the ‘pingdemic’ affected supply chains 

Toilet roll appears to be in short supply at a Morrisons in Exeter as shoppers are urged to avoid panic buying

Toilet roll appears to be in short supply at a Morrisons in Exeter as shoppers are urged to avoid panic buying

Toilet roll appears to be in short supply at a Morrisons in Exeter as shoppers are urged to avoid panic buying 

Supermarkets across the country have been seen with emptying shelves after 600,000-plus people were instructed to self-isolate in the week up to July 14 alone

Supermarkets across the country have been seen with emptying shelves after 600,000-plus people were instructed to self-isolate in the week up to July 14 alone

Supermarkets across the country have been seen with emptying shelves after 600,000-plus people were instructed to self-isolate in the week up to July 14 alone

Kwasi Kwarteng said people do not need to panic buy as photos of empty shelves continue to be shared online

Kwasi Kwarteng said people do not need to panic buy as photos of empty shelves continue to be shared online

Kwasi Kwarteng said people do not need to panic buy as photos of empty shelves continue to be shared online

The UK Hospitality body demanded a ‘more pragmatic solution’, saying even people who are not vaccinated should be able to take tests and keep working.  

The row came as owners of some of the country’s largest producers including the UK’s ‘Chicken King’ revealed they are at ‘crisis point’ – with a lack of poultry and milk on supermarket shelves and warnings of the ‘most serious food shortages that this country has seen in over 75 years’.

Ranjit Singh Boparan, of the 2 Sisters Food Group, said the pingdemic was also ‘masking’ other issues, including Brexit-related problems and Covid-related supply, staffing and delivery woes as the Government exempted 10,000 critical workers from self-isolation if pinged. 

Supermarkets have urged customers not to panic buy as a wide-range of products including meat, cheese, water and wine were missing from stores experiencing an epidemic of empty shelves. 

The closely-followed IHS Markit/CIPS composite output index, which measures different parts of the economy, hit 57.7, down from 62.2 in June to levels not seen since before lockdown restrictions started to ease. Anything above 50 is seen as a sign of growth.

Concerns about the loss of momentum also led to the lowest degree of optimism towards the business outlook for nine months, with companies struggling to manage large parts of the workforce off due to being told to self-isolate.

Some also reported that workers had taken unused holiday accumulated during recent lockdowns.

Around 32 per cent of those surveyed said they had seen a rise in business activity during July, compared to 16 per cet that signalled a decline, with looser restrictions, a boost in consumer spending due to greater numbers of ‘staycations’ and a strong order book in the manufacturing sector.

This MailOnline reader sent in this photograph of the empty milk aisle of his local Sainsbury's in Richmond, south-west London

This MailOnline reader sent in this photograph of the empty milk aisle of his local Sainsbury's in Richmond, south-west London

This MailOnline reader sent in this photograph of the empty milk aisle of his local Sainsbury’s in Richmond, south-west London

Empty shelves in Adsa, Cardiff as more and more supermarket staff and delivery drives are forced to self isolate

Empty shelves in Adsa, Cardiff as more and more supermarket staff and delivery drives are forced to self isolate

Empty shelves in Adsa, Cardiff as more and more supermarket staff and delivery drives are forced to self isolate

A shopper walks past an empty fridge in a supermarket in Nine Elms, south London

A shopper walks past an empty fridge in a supermarket in Nine Elms, south London

A shopper walks past an empty fridge in a supermarket in Nine Elms, south London

Tesco in Skegness, Lincolnshire, some freezer shelves are empty due to the 'pingdemic' as industry leaders demanded immediate action

Tesco in Skegness, Lincolnshire, some freezer shelves are empty due to the 'pingdemic' as industry leaders demanded immediate action

Tesco in Skegness, Lincolnshire, some freezer shelves are empty due to the ‘pingdemic’ as industry leaders demanded immediate action

The pace of the rise in levels of new work was the slowest in the current five-month period of expansion, with some firms citing a drop in business and consumer confidence due to the pandemic situation, while others continued to report Brexit-related difficulties with export sales.

Manufacturers in particular said rising raw material costs, Brexit border checks and increased delays in global shipping was playing a part in the slowdown.

The UK services business activity index hit 57.8 – a four-month low and down from 62.4 last month; the Flash UK manufacturing output index in the first half of July also hit a four-month low at 57.1 – down from 61.1 in June; and the Flash UK manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) hit a four-month low of 60.4, compared with 63.9 last month.

While current staff absences continue to cause problems, there were also issues with recruitment, with employment growth reducing to its slowest rate since March.

Scots firms can apply for ‘ping’ isolation, says Nicola Sturgeon   

Key workers in critical roles in Scotland will be able to avoid self-isolation after close contact with coronavirus if they are fully vaccinated and are tested daily, Nicola Sturgeon announced today.

Isolation will not be required for close contacts of infected people if their work is deemed to be essential and staff shortages could impact upon sectors such as health and social care, transport and food supplies.

Affected industries will have to apply to the Scottish Government for staff to be exempt from the mandatory quarantine rules and health and social care staff are not included in the change.

If the government deems a critical role can be exempt, the worker will still have to prove they have had two doses of coronavirus vaccine at least two weeks prior to any close contact, have a negative PCR test and agree to carry out lateral flow tests for 10 days after the contact.

The Scottish Government announcement states that exemptions will be made on a temporary basis and last only for as long as there is an immediate risk to business or service continuity.

Ms Sturgeon said: ‘It is essential that lifeline services and critical national infrastructure are maintained and we are implementing these changes now – ahead of possible changes to self-isolation rules for close contacts that may apply more generally in future – to ensure staff shortages do not put key services at risk.

‘We have seen significant staff shortages in a small number of organisations in recent days and we have worked with them to protect services.

‘Applications for exemptions are being considered from today and we will consider applications as they come in.

‘Clinical evidence tells us we can safely and effectively release some critical staff from self-isolation, with appropriate safeguards.

‘However, this is a very limited change at this stage, to be applied on a case-by-case basis and only where absolutely necessary.

‘We will not allow key services to be threatened by staff shortages, but equally we must continue to protect public health.’

Applications for isolation exemption can be made via the Scottish Government website and will be required to demonstrate the organisation is part of the country’s critical infrastructure, what steps have been taken to address pressure on the sector, and the impact of no action.

They will also have to set out the intended scope of exemption, such as the location and number of staff affected.

The government says that any exemption process for health, social care and local services will be different and announced at an as-yet-unconfirmed date.

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Large number of staff departures and a lack of candidates to fill roles was highlighted by the survey.

Inflationary pressures are also growing, with wage inflation, higher transport bills and price hikes by suppliers all impacting the economy.

Mr Boparan – known as the Chicken King because of 2 Sisters’ large scale involvement in the poultry trade – warned the Government needed to act now or face disaster.

He said: ‘No-one could possibly have predicted that this toxic cocktail would come together at this time. It started with the pandemic – and in the last week or so with pingdemic, but since May this year the operating environment has deteriorated so profoundly I can see no other outcome than major food shortages in the UK.

‘Supply of chicken and turkey is under threat. Our retail partners and the wider supply chain have worked together closer than ever before to ensure we retain food supply and this is of huge credit to everyone. But we are at crisis point.’ 

Mr Boparan, who featured on the Sunday Times Rich List in 2020 along with wife Baljinder with a fortune of £593million, added labour was a concern, reporting 15 per cent shortages among its 16,000-strong workforce with Brexit reducing available staff in the sector.

He said: ‘The critical labour issue alone means we walk a tightrope every week at the moment.

‘We’re just about coping, but I can see if no support is forthcoming – and urgently – from Government, then shelves will be empty, food waste will rocket simply because it cannot be processed, or delivered, and the shortages we saw last year will be peanuts in comparison to what could come.’

There was a limited welcome for the announcement of exemptions from isolation requirements for food supply chain workers. 

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, told Times Radio: ‘I think it’s important because the interruptions in supply and the increasing erosion of choice and concerns that it might get worse were beginning to grow quite fast.

‘I must confess I’m still a little bit mystified as to why the Government doesn’t want to bring [the end of the self-isolation requirement on August 16] forward and I think it would be useful to know on exactly which grounds the hiatus is justified.’

But other industry groups warned the move does not go far enough. British Frozen Food Federation chief Richard Harrow said: ‘The government announcement last night that parts of the supply chain will be allowed to test and release workers that are pinged by track and trace only goes part of the way. 

‘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? Confusion continues to pervade and I have been advised no list until Monday. This is worse than useless.’

James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, warned council services could also be at risk if the rules are not eased.

‘Councils continue to work hard to try and keep services running as best as possible, while protecting the health and wellbeing of our workforce. However, the large numbers of close contacts being required to self-isolate is having an impact on some council services due to staff shortages,’ he said.

‘Directors of public health, working in councils, are already under huge pressure as a result of the need to sign off on self-isolation exemptions for social care staff as well as many daily enquiries from other employers in their local area who believe their staff should be exempt. 

‘Clarity is urgently needed about what their role will be with regards to the application of exemptions locally while messaging from government must be crystal clear to avoid raising unrealistic expectations. The exemption approval process must also be quick and clear to understand.

‘While we continue to discuss with government the implications of this guidance for local government, it appears it will not help alleviate the pressure on some important – albeit non-critical – local services. 

‘Residents will need to bear with us if they experience disruption to some services, if councils are forced to prioritise services that protect the most vulnerable in their communities.’

The TUC said if workers are being told not to self-isolate, they need to know that their workplaces are Covid-secure.

General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘The Government has got into this mess by failing to consult unions and employers in advance of reopening the economy.

Daily testing ‘as effective as self-isolation’ 

Daily testing of pupils who have been in contact with someone with Covid-19, rather than isolating whole groups, may be just as effective in controlling transmission in secondary schools, a study suggests.

Research by the University of Oxford estimates that daily Covid-19 testing in schools – as an alternative to the current 10-day contact isolation policy – can reduce coronavirus-related school absences by 39 per cent.

Findings suggest only a small percentage (1.5-1.6 per cent) of pupils and staff tested positive for Covid-19 after close contact with a case in school or college.

Around 200 secondary schools and colleges across England took part in a trial. One group followed the national guidance of quarantining contacts of positive cases for 10 days, and the other allowed contacts to take rapid lateral flow tests daily at school over a week instead of isolation.

Researchers found there was no evidence that the rate of students and staff developing Covid-19 with symptoms was different in the group doing daily testing compared to the group isolating at home.

The findings come after Government figures show that more than one million children in England were out of school last week for Covid-19-related reasons – the equivalent of around one in seven

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‘Ministers must replace the current inadequate back-to-work guidance with legally binding rules on face coverings and enforce the law on workplace safety properly.

‘And they must bring back free workplace testing and ensure there is decent sick pay for all.

‘Many staff working in sectors like hospitality don’t earn enough to quality for even statutory sick pay. It beggars belief that ministers are refusing to fix this.

‘The Government needs to be clear about who it classes as critical workers. The current proposals don’t reflect the real world because businesses don’t exist in isolation – they are part of complex supply chains.’ 

It comes as key workers in critical roles in Scotland were told they will be able to avoid self-isolation after close contact with coronavirus if they are fully vaccinated and are tested daily.

Isolation will not be required for close contacts of infected people if their work is deemed to be essential and staff shortages could impact upon sectors such as health and social care, transport and food supplies.

Affected industries will have to apply to the Scottish Government for staff to be exempt from the mandatory quarantine rules and health and social care staff are not included in the change.

If the government deems a critical role can be exempt, the worker will still have to prove they have had two doses of coronavirus vaccine at least two weeks prior to any close contact, have a negative PCR test and agree to carry out lateral flow tests for 10 days after the contact.

The Scottish Government announcement states that exemptions will be made on a temporary basis and last only for as long as there is an immediate risk to business or service continuity.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: ‘It is essential that lifeline services and critical national infrastructure are maintained and we are implementing these changes now – ahead of possible changes to self-isolation rules for close contacts that may apply more generally in future – to ensure staff shortages do not put key services at risk.

‘We have seen significant staff shortages in a small number of organisations in recent days and we have worked with them to protect services.

‘Applications for exemptions are being considered from today and we will consider applications as they come in.

‘Clinical evidence tells us we can safely and effectively release some critical staff from self-isolation, with appropriate safeguards.

‘However, this is a very limited change at this stage, to be applied on a case-by-case basis and only where absolutely necessary.

‘We will not allow key services to be threatened by staff shortages, but equally we must continue to protect public health.’

Applications for isolation exemption can be made via the Scottish Government website and will be required to demonstrate the organisation is part of the country’s critical infrastructure, what steps have been taken to address pressure on the sector, and the impact of no action.

They will also have to set out the intended scope of exemption, such as the location and number of staff affected.

The government says that any exemption process for health, social care and local services will be different and announced at an as-yet-unconfirmed date.

Link hienalouca.com

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