Office staff washing dishes as 'pingdemic' pushes hospitality to the brink

Steve Magnall of the Two Magpies and Nick Attfield of Adnams

(L-R) Steve Magnall of the Two Magpies and Nick Attfield of Adnams on test and trace's impact on staffing - Credit: Two Magpies/Adnams

Business across Norfolk have begged the government to change its test and trace policy, saying 'Freedom Day' has posed the most difficult challenge of the pandemic so far. 

More than half a million people across the UK were told to isolate in the first week of July, which has lead East Anglian bosses to pull central office staff into pubs to wash dishes and shake cocktails. 

Currently people who come into contact with those who have tested positive for the virus are being told to isolate for ten days - however those who have been double-jabbed will not have to from August 16. 

Hospitality leaders have urged Boris Johnson to bring this forward, with Steve Magnall, who co-owns the Two Magpies Bakery brand with sites across Norwich, Holt, Darsham, Aldeburgh and Southwold saying policy shouldn't be left to the public to decide. 

Owners of Two Magpies Bakery; Rebecca Bishop and Steve Magnall. Picture: Archant

Owners of Two Magpies Bakery; Rebecca Bishop and Steve Magnall. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

He said: "If we all know people who are double-jabbed won't have to isolate in a few weeks time, why aren't we just doing it? If we're trying to desensitise people to the virus then we just need to do that, instead of telling the public they're free and then also advising them to wear masks and socially distance. 

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"It's a complete nightmare. I've had five people in one of my sites isolating - which doesn't sound like much but it's our entire front of house team. We've had chefs taking orders and vice versa - anything to keep the sites trading." 

He was echoed by Nick Attfield, director of properties at Suffolk brewery Adnams, said around 40 of the 300 staff in his sector of the business were self-isolating.

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The Swan Hotel in Southwold has been particularly badly affected, with 32 staff having to self-isolate — meaning the hotel could only offer a bed and breakfast service and Mr Attfield's central management team were put to work mixing cocktails and washing up.

The Swan in Southwold is Adnams' flagship hotel. Like the rest of the hospitality sector, the firm i

The Swan in Southwold is Adnams' flagship hotel - Credit: Archant

Mr Attfield said: "We don't know what will happen next, almost on an hourly basis. As soon as your 'ping' goes you are told to immediately self-isolate.

"I sit here and watch my phone go off thinking 'who might be next?'. That's no way to run a business.

"This is the most challenging era of the pandemic so far. It's the not knowing — the anxiety."

But the problem is not limited to small business, with huge engines within the regional economy also feeling their way towards freedom. 

A spokesman for Aviva, which employs 5,000 people in Norwich city centre, said: "If someone in our office tests positive we have a 24 hour response team in operation that assess and manage any confirmed cases, including a rapid cleaning regime for sanitising contact areas. Anyone who came into contact with the person who tested positive would be required to isolate and work from home in line with current government guidance."

Aviva building on Surrey Street, NorwichPHOTO: Nick Butcher

Aviva building on Surrey Street, NorwichPHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

It added that regular lateral flow testing is encouraged and face masks are optional for Norfolk staff. 

The spokesman added: "There will be no imposed social distancing. All desks and meeting rooms will be available for use at pre-Covid levels. However, we will encourage colleagues to remain aware of what they can do to reduce the risk of the virus spreading."

Businesses which operate large, open-plan factories face similar issues, with Bowthorpe-based Kettle Foods saying they had seen low infection rates, but will not relax measures until they "believe it is safe". 

A spokeswoman for the crisp maker said: "Our key priority is the safety of our team. We have had measures in place throughout the pandemic with people safely distanced from each other in the workplace. These measures will not be relaxed until we believe it is safe.  We continue to test temperatures daily and have screens and masks to protect people in their work stations and in the Feed Bistro.

"The majority of the office staff continue to work from home and the office is segregated from the factory therefore there is limited contact."

All staff at Bernard Matthews' Great Witchingham site are being tested for Covid-19. Picture: ANTONY

Bernard Matthews' has said it is "business as usual". - Credit: Archant

Similarly Bernard Matthews is taking a cautious approach to restriction easings, with a spokesman saying: "It’s business as usual. There’s no changes in policies or procedures and we will proceed in the same way as we have done for almost 18 months."

  • Q&A: Is it illegal to delete the test and trace app? 

Up to 11pc of people who downloaded the test and trace app have now deleted it - according to a new study commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

But is this legal? Here, Liz Stevens a professional support lawyer at Birketts, explains. 

Isolating if you were alerted by test and trace was made a legal requirement in September 2020 - is this still the case?

Ms Stevens said: "Yes this remains the case, under the provisions of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020. 

"These regulations were amended in December 2020 to reduce the self-isolation period from 14 to 10 days for those in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

"Workers must notify their employer that they are required to self-isolate as soon as is reasonably practicable, and not later than their next working day.

"Note, these legal provisions only apply to those notified directly by NHS Test and Trace that they are a close contact of a positive case, not to alerts from the NHS COVID-19 app."

Is it illegal to delete the track and trace app? 

Liz continued: “No, the app is voluntary and can be deleted at any time, but the legal requirement to self-isolate will still apply if you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace.”

Is it legal for employers to ask staff to delete the app, or to make them turn off contact tracing?

Liz concluded: “It is not illegal for employers to suggest that staff delete the app, or to turn off contact tracing.

"The government guidance includes some specific workplace scenarios when users should pause the contact tracing feature such as storing phones in lockers while working, or wearing medical grade PPE."

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