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UK contact case epidemic: government urged to act


It is an epidemic within a pandemic, dubbed “pingdemic”, a pun between “ping” (receive notification from the tracking application) and “epidemic?”. While the number of positive cases has skyrocketed for several weeks, flirting with 50,000 daily cases, hundreds of thousands of contact cases are forced to isolate themselves for ten days, crippling the economy.

600,000 notifications in one week

In the week ending July 14 alone, more than 600,000 self-isolating notifications were sent. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labor opposition leader Keir Starmer are both in quarantine.

On the front page of almost all of the press on Thursday, pictures of empty supermarket shelves are displayed. On Saturday, a line of the London Underground had to be interrupted for lack of sufficient staff. Some police forces have warned that response times would be extended. As the summer holidays approach, more than a million children have also been forced into self-isolation, forcing their parents to stay at home.

At issue: the outbreak of contamination fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant in the United Kingdom, one of the countries in Europe most affected by the coronavirus with almost 129,000 deaths.

Despite this new wave, the government on Monday lifted almost all health restrictions in place in England, abandoning even distancing and compulsory wearing of the mask. The progress of the vaccination campaign makes it possible, for the time being, to limit the number of hospitalizations and deaths.

An “untenable” situation

The executive is now in a hurry to act quickly, to prevent this “pingdemic” from turning into chaos.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), federation of distributors, urged him to relax the rules relating to contact cases, denouncing an “untenable” situation, with stores forced to close or reduce their opening hours, or struggling to fill the Rays.

Supermarket chain Iceland said it would have to recruit 2,000 temporary workers to make up for the shortfall. Its managing director Richard Walker, however, called on the BBC, customers not to engage in panic purchases, the empty shelves remaining, according to him, “isolated incidents”.

Motor carriers, central in supplying stores, have also said they are facing a labor shortage, accentuating a chronic shortage attributed in part to Brexit.

Deliberately ignoring official guidelines, distributor Bidfood on Thursday called on its drivers to continue working, even if notified, with a negative PCR test.

“Very limited” list of exemptions

While calling for respect for the rules, the government has promised to exempt some essential workers. A “very limited” list will be published on Thursday, according to Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng, which the executive ruled out earlier this week.

This is already the case since Monday for vaccinated employees of the public health service (NHS), “in exceptional circumstances”, provided a negative test.

“We are obviously aware of the impact felt by certain sectors and we are working closely with them,” commented a spokesperson for Boris Johnson, assuring that there was “no problem” in terms of supplies and that the food supply chain was “resilient”. He stressed that isolation was a “very important tool” against covid-19.

These precautions are even less understood as, from August 16, the obligation to isolate themselves for fully vaccinated people should be lifted.

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson apologized to companies for the “inconvenience” caused. But he himself was accused of maintaining the confusion: contact case of his Minister of Health, he first intended to avoid isolation by participating in a pilot program allowing to test himself daily. He had quickly turned around in the face of the outcry.

According to recent YouGov polls, around half of Britons would not self-isolate if they test negative after contact with a positive case, and 10% have already removed the tracking app.

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