Covid 'pingdemic' crippling factories, pubs and hospitals with needless staff isolation

THERE was fury last night as the Covid “pingdemic” hit pubs, factories, hospitals and airports with needless staff isolations.

The NHS Test & Trace app has ordered a record 520,194 to stay home in just a week, a 46 per cent rise on the previous seven days.

It means a staggering two million Brits are now thought to be stuck at home.

Testing labs have been swamped as vast numbers are advised to get checked, meaning vital PCR tests are not available in some areas.

Worried energy sector sources said the scale of the crisis could impact vital infrastructure that keeps the lights on.

The problem has spilled over to showbiz.

Filming of the second series of steamy bonkbuster Bridgerton ground to a halt after a member of the production team tested positive for Covid.

The entire cast and crew have now been tested at Wrotham Hall, an 18th century pile in Hertfordshire.

And anyone who came into contact with the infected person has gone into isolation.

Bosses of the Netflix drama are now concerned that the same fate may hit its other major production, The Crown, which is about to start filming at various locations.

The shooting of Tom Cruise’s new Mission Impossible movie has also been halted for a second time after a Covid outbreak among the crew working on scenes in Longcross Studios at Chertsey, Surrey.

The latest virus issues come despite the fact 87.5 per cent of Brits have had at least one jab, with two-thirds fully vaccinated and new figures showing the current wave has already flattened out.

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Economic think tank the Adam Smith Institute predicted the number of isolating Brits could soar to 2.6 million next week, including nearly one million school children.

Deputy director Matthew Kilcoyne said: “Many people are deleting the app because they know it is too sensitive.

“This is a very rational move when so many are vaccinated and there are effective treatments to protect the vulnerable.

“One-third of people will face financial hardship if they are forced to isolate. They must balance a very real risk of lost income against a very low potential risk from the virus.

“This is a worst-of-all-worlds nightmare that could cripple the economy.

“Orders are going unfulfilled due to staff shortages, forcing people and business to borrow more money in an uncertain climate. The app is a short-sighted false economy, right when we need it least.”

Mr Kilcoyne urged the Government to release data on the number who have stopped using the app, and the amount who “checked in” at pubs during the Euro 2020 final compared with those who actually went.

The app, run by the Department of Health rather than the NHS, sends an alert if you spend 15 minutes within two metres of someone who later tests positive.

Plans to exempt double-jabbed Brits from isolation do not kick in until August 16, and this is unlikely to change.

In the meantime, the Government is considering toning down the app’s sensitivity and looking at exempting double-jabbed NHS staff from the need to isolate sooner.

Trials are ongoing to let staff at certain workplaces — including Border Force, Network Rail, Number 10 and the Cabinet Office — escape the measure if they test negative daily.

But Prof Karol Sikora, a former WHO director, said: “Test and trace is a total disaster.

“To have double-jabbed people with no symptoms isolating at home while the economy goes to pot is just madness.”

Rolls-Royce and Nissan, which has 900 workers off at a factory in Sunderland, warned last night production could be hit.

The Unite union said delays at a major engine supplier due to isolating staff are so severe work may be permanently moved to China.

At Heathrow, passengers faced huge queues because security staff were forced to isolate.

Transport for London reduced services on some of its lines because of “a shortage of control centre staff”.

Hospitality chiefs said around one in three bar and restaurant workers is off as they have been pinged.

Tory MP and former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: “The Government must now rethink their whole strategy. It is going to cause chaos.”

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “It has got really bad. Some pubs are having to close or cut back the hours they are open because they have so many staff off.”

Sources claim labs have become so overwhelmed tests are not available in some areas until next week at the earliest.

The Department of Health admitted there has been “high demand for appointments” and “capacity for PCR test slots has been reached” in some areas.

Hospitals are struggling to get through huge patient backlogs as medics are forced to isolate.

Boris Johnson said yesterday “the worst” of Covid is finally behind Britain thanks to the vaccine rollout but he warned of more “difficult days” to come.

A government spokesman said: “The NHS app is reducing the spread of coronavirus and it prevented an estimated 600,000 cases and 8,000 deaths between September and December 2020.”

Netflix is hoping to restart work on Bridgerton — with Phoebe Dynevor, 36, returning as Daphne for the follow-up series — within 24 hours, but have a crisis meeting today to decide if it is able to resume safely.

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