Self-Isolation

Nearly a Third of Arrivals between March and May Suspected of Having Broken Quarantine Rules

Close to a third of people arriving in England and Northern Ireland between the months March and May are believed to have broken quarantine rules, but the Government can’t say exactly how many cases have been proved. BBC News has the story.

More than 300,000 cases were passed to investigators between March and May, according to figures seen by the BBC.

The Government was not able to say how many of these were found to have broken the rules or could not be traced. 

The Home Office has said it aims to pay home visits to all travellers suspected of not following the rules. …

From March 17th to May 31st more than a million people arrived in England and Northern Ireland from ‘Amber List’ countries. 

Figures for this period obtained under Freedom of Information laws show a total of 301,076 cases were referred to investigators for checks on whether they were self-isolating.

During this time, the highly contagious Delta variant of coronavirus – first detected in India – was spreading rapidly through the country.

Call handlers employed by the Department of Health and Social Care were tasked with contacting arrivals to check they were obeying the self-isolation and testing rules. 

Cases where the contact ended the call, refused to co-operate, indicated they would break the quarantine or testing rules, or could not be contacted after three attempts were referred to investigators at the Border Force Criminal Justice Unit and the police. 

Officers would then attempt to visit the contact at home to check they were following the rules. 

After April 26th, the Home Office hired private contractor Mitie to carry out home visits to international travellers required to isolate, from contacts supplied by NHS Test and Trace.

“We visit over 99% of the cases referred to this service by NHS Test and Trace,” a Government spokesman said. …

Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Services Union, said the quarantine system “very much relied on the honesty of people to do the right thing, rather than any type of meaningful enforcement”.

Worth reading in full.

Fewer Cars Produced Last Month by British Factories Than in Any July Since 1956

Demand for new cars may not have fallen too far over the past year of lockdowns, but staff absences caused by the ‘pingdemic’ and problems in supply chains means car manufacturers have recently been struggling to keep up. In July this year, the U.K. car industry produced fewer cars than in any other July since 1956. The Guardian has the story.

U.K. carmakers made 53,400 vehicles in July, a 37.6% drop when compared with the same month in 2020, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the industry’s lobby group. …

Manufacturers around the world have struggled to keep producing because of problems in their supply chains, most notably in the months-long delays to computer chips, or semiconductors, that are used to control everything from windscreen wipers to electric car batteries within the car.

Some analysts expect the chip shortages to last until next year, holding back the recovery of the car industry.

U.K. production over the course of 2021 is up by 18% compared with the first seven months of 2020, when car factories were shut for long periods during the first national lockdowns. Yet at 552,400 units, it is 29% below the 774,800 it reached over the same period in 2019 before the pandemic.

No large carmaker has been spared, and buyers are being forced to wait months for some new cars. German carmaker Volkswagen last week warned that it may have to scale back production further, after Japanese rival Toyota said that it would cut output by 40% in September.

Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan, the two largest manufacturers in the U.K., have both previously been forced to cut production because of shortages.

During June and July manufacturers also had to contend with increased levels of employee absences, as more and more workers were ‘pinged’ by their NHS apps when they had come into contact with people who later tested positive for coronavirus. …

Mike Hawes, the SMMT’s Chief Executive, said U.K. carmakers still faced “extremely tough conditions”.

“While the impact of the ‘pingdemic’ will lessen as self-isolation rules change, the worldwide shortage of semiconductors shows little sign of abating,” he said.

Worth reading in full.

Students Need Help Addressing “Socialisation Issues” Following More Than a Year of Lockdowns, Says University Official

Having been cooped up in their bedrooms for much of the past 18 months, teenagers who are about to begin university need help addressing “socialisation issues”, according to an English university official. Universities will also have to give catch-up sessions to help make up for the amount of learning lost during school closures. The i has the story.

Last month, the London School of Economics and the University of Exeter estimated that pupils lost nearly a third of their learning time between March 2020 and April 2021 because of school closures and coronavirus disruption.  

With many schools unable to complete the full A-level curriculum, students were only assessed this summer on the topics they had covered. 

To make sure students will be able to complete their undergraduate courses, universities are therefore having to step in to bridge the learning gaps. 

The elite Russell Group of universities has teamed up with the Open University to launch ‘Jumpstart University’ – a free resource designed to help students settle into university. 

The platform – which is open to students in all universities – has subject-specific courses, and modules on study skills, student life, wellbeing and mental health. …

An official working for a university in the South of England told i that they were expecting to deliver “remedial work with a lot of students”.

“They cannot help but have had some of their intellectual and other development hindered by being at home for two years at such a critical part of their education. 

“We certainly noticed at the start of last year, some students had problems typical entrants didn’t have.” 

With the 2021 cohort experiencing disruption over two school years, catch-up would have to be provided “across the whole year” to make up for the amount of learning lost, they said. 

The source said universities would have to address “socialisation issues” as well as academic study. “If you’re locked away from age 16 to 18… if we’re back to normal by October, you’ve gone from a period of being locked down for almost two years, to something like as much freedom as you’re ever likely to get.” …

With student unions planning traditional freshers’ week activities for the first time since 2019, there are also concerns some students may over-indulge after two school years in which socialising was strictly limited.

Worth reading in full.

Man Taking Legal Action Over Prison-Like Conditions at Government-Approved Quarantine Hotel

A man from Southampton is taking legal action over the prison-like conditions at a quarantine hotel which he says left him “traumatised” and suffering from depression. He was forced to stay at a Government-approved hotel for ten days (costing him £1,750) after visiting a sick relative in India, which was on the Red List at the time, and claims to have been treated like a “Covid prisoner”. BBC News has the story.

Pritheepal Singh… stayed at Park Plaza Waterloo, London, after visiting a sick relative in India.

He said the experience was like prison, with restricted exercise and food that was inappropriate for his religion.

The Department of Health and Social Care said its “robust border regime” protected the U.K. from Covid.

The hotel said it did its best to make guests feel welcome.

Mr Singh said his stay left him “traumatised” and suffering from depression.

He said: “It was pure fear. I had to go and speak to my doctors. I couldn’t sleep at night.

“I didn’t know that I was going to be treated like a Covid prisoner. It is despicable behaviour – just not acceptable.”

He said security guards stayed by his room to stop him leaving and allocated restricted fresh air breaks on the hotel roof.

Mr Singh added that he was served halal meat, which was not appropriate for his religion. …

On August 12th, the Government raised the price of hotel quarantine per adult from £1,750 to £2,285.

He isn’t the first to complain of poor conditions at a quarantine hotel. Earlier this month, one Brit staying in a Heathrow hotel said he had to move room twice due to a rodent infestation.

The BBC News report is worth reading in full.

The ‘Pingdemic’ Is Dead, Long Live the ‘Pingdemic’!

The end of self-isolation rules for double jabbed Brits who are ‘pinged’ or contacted by NHS Test and Trace after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid is “dangerous” and “totally illogical” (but not illogical in the way that Toby pointed out earlier), says the Deputy General Secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union. He is one of the sizable number of industry leaders who have called for staff to be supported if they choose to stay at home after being ‘pinged’, despite concerns over staff shortages caused by the ‘pingdemic‘ (which is said to have finished). The Telegraph has the story.

Railway workers and doctors have been backed to stay at home if they come into contact with a Covid case despite new rules allowing double jabbed people to return to their jobs.

Meanwhile, industry leaders called for further clarity on whether staff alerted by NHS Test and Trace could be compelled to come back to the workplace. …

Steve Hedley, the Deputy General Secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union, criticised the change [to self-isolation rules] as “dangerous” and “totally illogical” and backed staff who refused to come back to the workplace.

“This is a dangerous approach by the Government because the evidence shows that the link between the virus and deaths has been weakened, but it hasn’t been broken,” Mr Hedley said.

He added: “Many workers will be concerned at spreading or catching Covid if people pinged by the app are allowed to come back to their jobs straight away. If they choose to stay at home, we would support them. No one should be forced to go back to work.

“The railway companies have assured us that it will still be voluntary for people to come back to work. It must stay that way.”

The British Medical Association added that healthcare workers who want to self-isolate “should not be penalised in any way for doing so”.

Meanwhile, business leaders welcomed the relaxed rules but called for clarity on whether staff could be compelled to return to work if they come into contact with a Covid case.

Kate Nicholls, the Chief Executive of U.K. Hospitality, said guidance should be “black and white” rather than leaving the choice up to individual employers.

“Employers want to know with more certainty what they should do in those circumstances,” she said. …

Ms Nicholls also called for a further relaxation of the rules to allow younger people who have not yet had both jabs to be spared from automatic self-isolation.

Worth reading in full.

Fully Vaccinated Brits Won’t Have to Self-Isolate After Coming Into Contact With a Covid ‘Case’ From Monday

The legal requirement for fully vaccinated Britons to self-isolate for 10 days after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid will be replaced with advice to take tests from Monday. If a test comes back positive, isolation rules must still be followed. Unsurprisingly, there will not yet be any changes to the rules for those who haven’t been ‘jabbed’. The Guardian has more.

Ministers have confirmed that the legal requirement to isolate will be replaced with non-binding advice to take a test for the double-jabbed, as well as those 18 and under. And those who do come into contact with the infected will not be told to isolate while waiting for their results. For people who do test positive, isolation will continue.

The Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said on Wednesday night that the Government was able to go ahead with the decision to exempt the fully vaccinated from isolation rules on August 16th, as planned, because “getting two doses of a vaccine has tipped the odds in our favour and allowed us to safely reclaim our lost freedoms”.

Although Boris Johnson was under pressure from business to bring forward the August 16th date, because of disruption caused by the ‘pingdemic’, he said last month that timetable was “nailed on” and there was no likelihood of it being moved.

But when the details were announced on Wednesday night, they were less restrictive than they might have been. The fully vaccinated and under-18s will only be advised to get a PCR test if they are a close contact of a positive case, not required to, and they will not be expected to isolate while they await the results of the test. …

According to the official data, there have been more than 9 million calls to people since the pandemic began from the English Test and Trace service telling them that they must isolate. Until now, this has been a legal requirement.

There have also been more than 5 million alerts sent by the Covid app in England telling people they should isolate for the same reason, although these ‘pings’ have not been legally binding for the recipients.

Worth reading in full.

Brit Complains of Rodent Infestation at £1,750 Quarantine Hotel

There have been numerous reports of “prison-like” conditions at quarantine hotels, where travellers from Red List countries must self-isolate for 10 days, costing them £1,750. Despite this, conditions appear to have reached a new low, with one Brit staying in a Heathrow hotel saying he has had to move room twice due to a rodent infestation. Sky News has the story.

Anthony, 25, who did not want to give a surname, said he has seen an animal in his room on two occasions.

He told Sky News: “It’s hell. It’s shocking. It’s a health & safety hazard… The hotel has to be shut down.”

Anthony is paying £1,750 to stay at Government-approved Mercure Heathrow Hotel on his return from a visit to Brazil, a Red List country.

He claims staff have apologised, offered him free beer, but no refund.

In a statement, Mercure Hotels said: “An external pest control professional has checked the hotel and concluded no evidence of pest activity. We take complaints such as this very seriously.” …

Anthony said: “There would have been rats wandering around when I was sleeping, crawling on tables & cutlery, sniffing cups, in the bin… Rats carry diseases.”

“At 1.30am I saw a rat come from behind the fridge into view,” he added.

“I talked to security. They moved me into a new room.”

As he changed room, he said another guest asked: “Have you got one in your room as well?”

Anthony said hotel staff have admitted those in other rooms have had similar problems with rodents. There is no cleaning service for the full ten-day stay due to Covid measures.

Worth reading in full.

Number of NHS App ‘Pings’ Falls by 43% In a Week but Remains Close to 400,000

The number of people told to self-isolate in one week by the NHS Covid app has finally fallen after previously rising for three weeks in a row, but the total number of ‘pings’ sent out remains high after businesses leaders said recent changes to the app came “too little, too late“. The Guardian has the story.

A total of 395,971 alerts were sent in the week to July 28th telling people in England and Wales they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus – down from 690,129 the week before.

Though reports have suggested that use of the app is decreasing, the large fall in alerts has been matched by a similar decline in the number of recorded cases over the same period.

A total of 189,232 people tested positive for Covid in England at least once in the week to July 28th, down 39% on the previous week, according to the latest test and trace figures.

The number of check-ins to venues using the app also dropped. There were 2.4 million check-ins in the week to July 28th in England and Wales – down 65% on the previous week.

A major incentive for having it downloaded was removed following the easing of coronavirus restrictions in England from July 19th onwards, when it ceased to be compulsory to check into venues, which most people did by scanning a QR code with the app.

The number of app downloads has shrunk dramatically since the rule change, while many others will have deleted it amid reports of a ‘pingdemic’ of workers across the country being forced to isolate after receiving alerts, affecting supply chains and the economy. …

Karan Bilimoria, the Confederation of British Industry President, said the fall in alerts was welcome but said businesses were still struggling with self-isolating employees.

“It’s good to see a steep fall in those having to self-isolate, but this doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. The latest numbers remain too high and illustrate the frustration facing firms as existing staff shortages are exacerbated by unnecessary self-isolation. Amending the app is a welcome recognition of the problem but won’t provide the solution,” Lord Bilimoria said.

Worth reading in full.

Japan Names and Shames Quarantine Rule Breakers

Japanese officials have publicly named three nationals who broke travel quarantine rules and have threatened to do the same to others who do not self-isolate for two weeks after returning from abroad. The Guardian has the story.

The Health Ministry said the three Japanese nationals named had clearly acted to avoid contact with authorities after recently returning from abroad.

The announcement late on Monday, the first of its kind, sparked a flurry of speculation among Twitter users about the details of those identified, such as their jobs and locations.

Japan is asking all travellers from overseas, including its own citizens, to self-quarantine for two weeks, during which they are asked to use a location-tracking smartphone app and report on their health condition.

Japan last week expanded its Covid state of emergency to four more areas beyond Tokyo after record increases in infections while the capital hosts the Olympic Games. …

Emergency measures already in place in Tokyo and the southern island of Okinawa will also be extended until the end of August, after the Olympics and well into the Paralympics, which start on August 24th. …

Tokyo’s Governor, Yuriko Koike, has noted that people in their 30s or younger accounted for many recent cases and urged them to “share the sense of crisis” and follow basic measures such as mask wearing and avoiding having parties.

Worth reading in full.

Change to NHS Covid App “Too Little, Too Late”, Say Business Leaders

Fewer people will be told to self-isolate in the coming weeks following an update to the NHS Covid app which means only those who have come into contact with an asymptomatic case in the past 48 hours (rather than the past five days) will be ‘pinged’. But this is only likely to prevent up to one fifth of ‘pings’, according to reports, highlighting that the ‘pingdemic‘ is far from over.

The response to the update from business leaders has been cold. The main impression seems to be that the change is “too little, too late”. A spokesman for the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) think tank says the app – even in its new form – is “designed for a world with no treatments and no vaccines” and so has no place in Britain. MailOnline has more.

U.K. Hospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said more had to be done, with the fact that fully vaccinated staff still having to self-isolate being a “significant barrier to venues operating viably and moving towards recovery”.

And the ASI said the Government should now consider handing impacted firms a rebate for the “lost business the NHS app has taken out of our productive and otherwise healthy economy”.

Ms Nicholls said: “This intervention from Government is absolutely necessary to prevent a complete loss of summer trading for the hospitality sector following prolonged periods of severely disrupted trading.

“This will help to alleviate some of the pressure currently being experienced by hard-hit businesses, but is not a silver bullet.” …

She added that the industry body’s research found more than 250,000 hospitality workers are being affected by ‘pings’ at any given point by the app.

And a spokesman for the ASI said: “This is exceptionally welcome for firms struggling with employees off – not because they’ve got Covid but because of an app designed for a world with no treatments and no vaccines.

“It comes too little and too late though for so many companies that have lost revenue and taken on debt from reduced service provision and custom due to the app.” …

Although the change to the app is a major move to address the pingdemic, it will apply only in cases where Covid-carriers do not have symptoms – about one third of total infections.

This means hundreds of thousands are still likely to be pinged each week and the self-isolation carnage will continue to wreak havoc until the rules are fully relaxed later this month [but only for those who are fully vaccinated].

Currently when people are pinged by the app they are advised – but not legally obliged – to self-isolate for 10 days.

Trade union Unite said the change in guidance does not go far enough, and repeated its call for the automotive and steel sectors to be exempt from self-isolation rules. …

The Government said fewer people will now be pinged overall but the total number of “high-risk contacts being advised to self-isolate” will stay the same.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: “It’s time to embrace Britain’s jab success by scrapping Covid ‘ping’ app NOW,” says the Sun in its main leader today.