Industry leaders are calling for the government to address the widespread staff shortages caused by workers en masse self-isolating after being “pinged” by NHS testing and tracking.
Online fashion retailer Asos joined automakers Nissan and Rolls-Royce on Thursday in a rapidly growing list of companies grappling with disruptions from absenteeism.
As of August 16, people who have received both doses of a vaccine or who are under the age of 18 will no longer need to self-isolate if they come into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.
But parts of the economy are at risk of shutting down long beforehand, industry leaders warned amid predictions that rising case numbers could force more than 1 million people to stay home.
The problem is particularly acute in retail, hospitality and manufacturing, where only a limited number of employees can work from home, causing significant disruption or, in some cases, site closures.
Industry insiders say that up to 30% of employees are absent in some parts of the country, while the retail average is closer to 10%.
Distribution centers, headquarters, and stores all suffer from staffing issues caused by NHS test-and-trace alerts.
On Thursday, online fashion retailer Asos boss Nick Beighton said there had been “a lot of test and trace pinging” at the group’s London headquarters and its Barnsley distribution center.
“It’s very frustrating for the employees and for us. Even people who have been double stabbed need to self-isolate, ”he said.
The comments came after Richard Walker, head of the Icelandic grocery chain, said coronavirus-related employee absences had “grown exponentially” while Sainsbury’s reported an “increase in absenteeism” in recent weeks.
Another industry insider said less than 10% of its employees are currently self-isolating, but the company feared this could climb to 30% in a matter of weeks.
Another said it was a “big problem” as the absenteeism rate had increased in the past few weeks due to a combination of people being peded by the NHS app or falling ill.
At least one large supermarket chain is said to have run into serious difficulties in their distribution center because the staff had to self-isolate.
Retailers are also struggling to keep inventory going as self-isolation issues exacerbate staff shortages due to Brexit and Covid-related travel restrictions at food processors, farms and delivery companies.
In the past 24 hours, Nissan and luxury automaker Rolls-Royce have confirmed they are in trouble due to the lack of staff.
A spokesman for BMW’s own Rolls-Royce said the company was still running at full speed at its Goodwood plant, but was reaching “a somewhat critical point” where a shift would have to be stopped and production cut in half.
Nissan said areas of its Sunderland plant, which employs 6,000 people, have already been “adjusted” due to staff self-isolation.
“The well-being of our team is our top priority and we remain confident that we are carrying out strict security checks on site,” said a spokesman.
Manufacturing sources said other companies are suffering as well but are reluctant to say so publicly for fear of scaring customers and losing business.
Industrial trade organization Make UK said a growing number of its members have suffered from production losses, with up to 20% of employees being isolated, and urged the government to reconsider the August relaxation date as an “immediate priority”.
Make UK CEO Stephen Phipson said the situation “is likely to get much worse with the lifting of restrictions next week”.
The Unite union said some factories are already suffering from critical staff shortages.
Pubs, bars and restaurants are badly affected because the staff comes into contact with so many people.
Up to 20% of the industry’s workforce is isolated, according to trade organization UK Hospitality, which warned it could climb to one in three in a matter of weeks. The executive director, Kate Nicholls, has urged the government to consider allowing employees who test negative to continue working.
Meanwhile, a number of restaurants, bars and breweries across the country have reported having to close their doors or reduce opening hours due to sudden staff shortages.
The UK’s largest pub company, Stonegate, has said 1,000 employees are out of work and 15 of its 4,800 locations are closed, while Greene King, with 2,700 pubs, is also struggling to keep all of its pubs open.
Other affected companies are the café and bar chain Loungers with 173 employees, St Austell Brewery in Cornwall, the London-based steak and cocktail chain Hawksmoor and the Oxfordshire pub and brewery Brakspear.