Covid cases are rising and the NHS test and trace has gone into overdrive. Last week a record breaking 618,903 people were “pinged” by the app and told to isolate.
Workers having to isolate has caused havoc in the health care service, the transport sector, retail and supermarkets.
But the chaos is not down to a “pingdemic” manufactured by a faulty test and trace app. It is down to the rising number of Covid cases because of the Tory dismantling of restrictions.
Jenny is an A&E nurse at Tameside hospital in Greater Manchester. She told Socialist Worker that staff absences are putting a strain on an already stretched health service.
“The pressure on us at the moment is unbelievable.
“Every day we have off we get a call asking us to come in,” Jenny explained.
“Staffing levels are chronic, and it doesn’t help that we are already burnt out from 18 months of stress.”
Jenny is clear that it is not the rising number of pings, but the rising number of infections that is the real crisis.
“In the last two or three weeks, I have seen a marked increase in children coming into A&E with Covid symptoms. It’s shocking,” she said.
“It’s such a calamity, but the Tories have effectively passed the book, and said if you get sick it’s your fault.”
Last week Boris Johnson announced that some key workers could “ignore” the app.
And under a new Scottish government scheme, workers in the health, food and transport sectors can apply to be exempt from self-isolation.
Bosses will now feel more confident to tell workers that isolating isn’t necessary.
Callum works at a shop in Manchester. He told Socialist Worker that his boss said that the test and trace app was “wrong”. That is to persuade workers to keep coming in.
“After one of the people I work with tested positive, my colleagues and I were talking about what to do in the work group chat,” said Callum.
“When I got contacted by test and trace to isolate, I told my boss and he told me to disregard it because there was no one that I’d worked with who had tested positive.”
Callum added, “My boss didn’t care about me or my colleagues, he only cared about his profits.”
Charlie works in high street clothes shop Primark. They said they are worried that the app might be being disregarded by their managers.
“Working on the tills you work closely with other staff, customers and managers,” Charlie said. “But I’m not convinced that if someone tested positive that we’d all be informed and advised to test or isolate.
“I don’t think the shop would be prepared to have so many staff off absent.”
There is no doubt that the NHS test and trace app has flaws. But it is reflecting the surge in cases.
The app has been slated as too slow to notify those who have been in contact with a person with the virus. Bosses will use this as an excuse to try and persuade their workers to ignore precautions altogether.
‘The Tory approach is about profit before people’
The transport sector has also been hit hard because of the Tories’ inability to avoid a rise in Covid cases, and failure to act when cases began rising.
Paul Williams from the PCS union national executive, speaking in a personal capacity, told Socialist Worker about the implications of absences on the transport sector.
“The rising number of cases has seen a number of transport workers being told to self-isolate this has meant a number of services are reaching crisis point,” Paul said.
“Over last weekend the Metropolitan line was suspended along with effects to other tube line services.
“Bus companies are really worried about staff absence, and the pressure this leaves on remaining bus services and is leading to less ability to social distance.
“And staff absence isn’t just affecting roads and rail, but aviation and maritime are worried about a loss of pilots in both areas which will lead to food and medical shortages.”
But as Paul pointed out, the chaos is down to Tory failings, not workers isolating as they have been instructed to.
Paul added, “The fault for this lies fairly and squarely with this government. They have taken an approach that is clearly about profit before people.
“Any rational government would have understood that we still need critical workers, but they have failed yet again to protect them.
“Had the Tories put a system of testing in before announcing the lifting of regulations it might have enabled critical workers to test daily and only go off if they have a positive test.”
Once again, the Tories have created further misery and chaos for normal people on top of 18 months of failures.
They have learnt nothing from the previous waves of the virus, and look to blame workers instead.
Bosses’ profits will come first
The government’s failure to come up with a plan for large numbers of workers needing to self-isolate could lead to the disruption of food supply chains.
Chief Executive of the UK Major Ports Group Tim Morris said the pingdemic is the most “significant threat to ports’ resilience we have seen yet”.
Morris told the Daily Telegraph, “If the current trajectory of absences continues without the government taking any action, there has to be a risk of disruption to important supply chains, including food.”
And supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Co-op and Lidl have already been forced to concede that not all their products will be available.
Bosses like Morris are panicking because their profits will be put at risk. For ordinary people, it means struggling to access food.
The collapse of infrastructure shows that the bosses and the Tories have completely failed to account for staff absences that were inevitable during a pandemic.
Fear of losing jobs and pay
Economic pressure is forcing some workers to turn off or ignore the test and trace app for fear of losing pay.
Charlie said that workers who are on temporary contracts might be scared to isolate when told, for fear of racking up too many absences.
“I’m also really worried that if we go into lockdown again, it could mean I could lose my job. Those on temporary contracts are always the first to go,” Charlie added.
“The prospect of going into lockdown, with no money, because I’ve been isolating and had days off is scary.”
That’s why the defence of restrictions has to be linked to the fight for full economic support."