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The U.K. is facing a so-called “pingdemic” as hundreds of thousands of people are being told to self-isolate after being in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Between July 8 and July 15, over 600,000 people using the NHS’ COVID-19 app received alerts telling them to self-isolate for up to 10 days, BBC News reports. Now, “the drastic reduction in staffing that has resulted has sown chaos through sectors as diverse as food supplies, haulage, supermarkets, hospitality, manufacturing and media,” Reuters reports. According to Axios, the supermarket group Iceland said it had to close a number of stores because of staff shortages.
“We have a structural issue with [a shortage of] HGV drivers for a variety of different reasons, but of course the ‘pingdemic’ has made it even worse,” Iceland managing director Richard Walker said, referencing the British term for truck drivers, per Axios. “We are starting to see some availability issues.”
Amid reports of empty store shelves, a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “we’re aware of the impact on some industries and services and working closely with them particularly food and supermarkets,” but that “we have a robust and resilient food supply chain,” per BBC News. Johnson, who lifted COVID-19 restrictions on July 19, recently went into isolation himself due to a COVID-19 contact.
“If you are pinged, you should self-isolate,” Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told BBC. “I know it poses challenges, and we are seeing reports of shortages which we are monitoring, but the rules are clear and I think they should be followed.”