Test and Trace

Test and Trace Call Centre Staff Are Being Laid off Because There Aren’t Enough ‘Cases’ to Keep Them Busy

Test and Trace bosses are having to lay off staff because there aren’t enough ‘cases’ to keep them busy, just weeks after they were reportedly pushed by the Government to hire thousands more. The Sun has the story.

Test and Trace call centre staff in England are being let go just weeks after a drive to hire reinforcements ahead of the dreaded third wave, the Sun can reveal.

Outsourcing firm Sitel has reportedly told phone handlers they are no longer needed because the service is overstaffed.

Officials confirmed the Department of Health is shrinking Test and Trace because of a “decrease” in case numbers over the summer – despite signs they are now rising again.

One call centre worker claimed 4,000 workers – who phone Covid positive cases and their contacts to make sure people self-isolate – could lose their jobs after Sitel started short-notice terminations in August.

But bosses would not say how many will be let go.

The source said: “Some people have only been employed for two weeks and they’re already being told to leave. We’ve been hiring 60 people a day for the last two months.

“I think sacking people in such a short space of time without any notice is bad.”

Contractors were reportedly paid to hire thousands more tracers earlier in the summer when top Government advisers warned cases could hit 100,000 a day after lockdown ended.

But infections peaked at 55,000 in July and have since fallen to around 35,000 per day.

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.

Tens of Thousands of Brits Won’t Tell NHS Test and Trace Who They’ve Come Into Contact With

Almost a quarter of Brits contacted by Test and Trace in the week up to July 21st refused to disclose their recent close contacts, as reports suggest that people are beginning to revolt against the ‘pingdemic’. MailOnline has the story.

The controversial contact tracing system made 250,000 calls in the seven-day spell ending July 21st, making it the busiest week since the darkest period of the second wave in January.

But nearly a quarter of infected people who were contacted didn’t cooperate, in a signal that people may now be trying to protect family, friends and colleagues from having to self-isolate.

The rate of Covid-infected people who’ve avoided naming close contacts has risen consistently since the third wave started to gather steam in June, from 14.1% to 23.1%.

Government data yesterday underlined just how bad the ‘pingdemic’ has become, with a record 1.5 million quarantine instructions sent out in the same week. 

Millions of workers have been unable to do their jobs because they’ve been told to isolate, leaving supermarket shelves empty, pubs and restaurants shut, and trains cancelled across the country. …

The £37 billion Test and Trace programme – set-up last May – has been branded a monumental waste of money by politicians for failing in its only goal to stop another lockdown.

Since it was set up 14 months ago, England has faced two more national lockdowns and two Covid waves. …

If NHS Test and Trace contact tracers are unable to reach infected people, their details are passed on to local authorities to follow-up.

Of the 251,190 people asked to provide close contacts in the most recent week, just 193,000 provided the names and numbers of those who they may have passed the virus onto.

More than 58,000 refused to do so.

Worth reading in full.

End of Self-Isolation Rules for Fully Vaccinated Could Be Delayed Beyond August 16th

Earlier this month, the Government announced it would treat vaccinated and unvaccinated Brits differently when it came to self-isolation rules from August 16th, allowing those who have had two doses of a Covid vaccine to go about their lives as normal after being ‘pinged’. The Policing Minister has, however, confused things by suggesting that this change could be delayed and we will have to “wait and see” what the scientists say.

In the meantime, some ‘key workers’ have been made exempt from self-isolation rules but must still quarantine if ‘pinged’ when they are not on shift. The Sun has more.

Kit Malthouse said Number 10 will have to remain “agile” even after new infections dropped for the sixth day in a row.

He said a final decision on whether to end quarantine for the double-jabbed will be taken on the advice of scientists.

Number 10 has repeatedly insisted that the restrictions will be scrapped on August 16th come what may. …

Mr Malthouse said the school holidays are acting as a “natural firebreak” against the further spread of the virus.

And he also cited the fact that people are staycationing this year rather than travelling abroad for helping keep cases down.

He said: “It’s quite an interesting cocktail of effects going on. Six days of drop is great but we have to be very careful.

“We have to wait until mid-August, see what’s happening on the numbers, hope they continue downwards, and then take the next step.

“Let’s all hope the numbers go well. People will be assessing in the week before what the numbers look like and then taking a decision nearer the time.”

Mr Malthouse said ministers will have to “wait and see” what impact the ‘Freedom Day’ lifting of restrictions has on cases. …

“There are wiser heads than mine looking at all the data, both in this country and across the world, to assess how we need to move in the future.

“And if we have to be agile, then we’ll have to do that in two or three weeks’ time.

“But for the moment looking good so far, fingers crossed for August.” …

Under the PM’s plans, from August 16th all double-jabbed Brits will be able to replace mandatory self-isolation with testing. …

But the communication around it has been a shambles, with ministers and Number 10 contradicting each other on whether the date could be pushed back.

Worth reading in full.

Has the Government Been Undermining Social Norms by Imposing Inconvenient Rules It Cannot Enforce?

Since the start of the pandemic, the Government has introduced a plethora of rules concerning when we can and cannot leave our homes.

Anyone with symptoms is meant to self-isolate at home. Ditto for anyone who tests positive or who comes into contact with someone who’s tested positive. People travelling to Britain from overseas must self-isolate too (except football VIPs). And during the lockdown last year, we weren’t supposed to leave our homes for any reason other than work, exercise or food shopping.

Needless to say, these rules have made life difficult for a lot of people – particularly those who travel regularly, or who manage a small business. The current ‘pingdemic’ is wreaking havoc on Britain’s economy, as service-providers struggle to meet demand for lack of staff.

While asking symptomatic people to self-isolate arguably makes sense, it’s less clear whether all the other rules and regulations can be justified. In a 2019 report on pandemic influenza, the WHO recommended things such as ventilation of indoor spaces and isolation of symptomatic individuals. However, it classified “quarantine of exposed individuals” as “not recommended in any circumstances”.

Aside from the considerable inconvenience they cause, there’s another potential downside of the lockdown rules. Because they’re so difficult to enforce, large numbers of people are simply ignoring them. And might this, in turn, be undermining general norms of law-abidingness?

A major study published in The BMJ back in March found that only 43% of symptomatic people fully adhered to self-isolation – and that was based on data from last year, when the disease was seen as much more of a threat. It’s likely that a similar or even lower percentage of people have been complying with all the other rules.

Why does this matter? Studies have shown that when people observe norms being violated, they become more likely to violate norms themselves, leading to the gradual erosion of norm compliance. For example, a 2008 paper found that people were more likely to litter when there was graffiti next to a “No graffiti” sign than when there were no obvious signs of norm violation.

Regarding the pandemic itself, there’s already evidence that the scandal surrounding Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle had a negative effect on adherence to lockdown rules. People reasoned, “If he’s not following the rules, then why should I?”

But the effect might be even more general than that. After witnessing so many examples of lockdown violations over the past year and a half, might people have become more likely to break other rules in society as well? I’m not aware of any evidence of this at the present time, but it doesn’t seem at all implausible.

Of course, one might say: even if the lockdown rules have slightly undermined law-abidingness, they were worth it to control the epidemic. Given the lack of evidence on stay-at-home orders, I am rather doubtful of this. But at the very least, there’s yet another potential cost of lockdown for us to consider.

Why is This Government so Wedded to the Ruinously Expensive and Completely Useless Test and Trace Programme?

There follows a guest post by David McGrogan, an Associate Professor of Law at Northumbria Law School.

With the so-called ‘pingdemic’ well underway, and showing no sign of abating, the question naturally arises: why are our politicians obsessed with finding technological ways out of the pandemic? What possessed them to imagine that ‘Test and Trace’ could ever be successful?

The proximate cause appears to have been an unholy alliance between Matt Hancock and Dominic Cummings, who looked at what had happened in South Korea and Taiwan and came to the bizarre conclusion that what had apparently worked there – in societies and circumstances totally unlike ours – could just be transplanted here and deployed as effectively. Whether this should be more properly be described as hubris or stupidity is a question I will leave to the reader to decide.

The problem, though, has much deeper roots. The Hungarian-French thinker, Anthony de Jasay, once made the observation (which, like all great observations, is deceptively simple) that there is a natural bias among politicians towards doing things. It takes a very special kind of person to get elected to national office and then resist using the power available to them. In fact, such a person may not exist at all – it is impossible to identify a leader even remotely resembling that type on either side of the Atlantic since, perhaps, Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s. Why do people decide to become politicians, after all? Because they want to do things.

The idea, then, that Boris and his Cabinet would have been able to simply sit there, apparently passively, while the virus ‘let rip’, was pretty implausible once the Chinese and Italians had gone into lockdown. The urge to do things would have been overwhelming. And it remains to this day. Letting the immune systems and common sense of the public take care of matters is anathema to our leaders, because it doesn’t involve them taking bold action or, indeed, doing anything much at all. This goes against the grain of their very psyches: in their own minds, they envisage themselves ‘winning’ in the war against Covid through their brilliant decision-making and uber-competence, and being hoisted onto the shoulders of the grateful populace and paraded through the streets accordingly. They don’t want nature to take the credit which they believe is theirs. In fact, it is pretty clear that they don’t really want the virus to reach natural equilibrium at all – they want to defeat it, preferably through some fabulous scheme.

Police Response Times “Under Strain” Because of Staff Shortages Caused by “Pingdemic”

The “pingdemic” isn’t just damaging business and social life, but also the ability of the police to deal with crime. The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) says that response times are “under strain” due to staff shortages caused by self-isolation rules. 7.3% of police officers and staff are currently absent from work, yet the Government appears to be in no hurry to come up with a solution. Sky News has the story.

The NPCC said that in some forces, functions such as control room operations are being hit by high numbers of absent staff, impacting their ability to respond quickly to calls.

Earlier, one Police and Crime Commissioner warned the public that call response times will rise due to the large amount [number] of people being asked to self-isolate after coming into contact with a positive coronavirus case.

Steve Turner of Cleveland Police said the force has had to cancel rest days and annual leave for some officers, as well as bringing in others from different shifts, to fill gaps caused by staff having to quarantine after being close to someone with Covid.

It comes as a leading epidemiologist, who runs the ZOE Covid symptom study, claimed the NHS Covid app is no longer useful.

Professor Tim Spector told Sky News: “I think employers should tell their staff if they feel unwell, they have cold-like symptoms, then they stay away but I don’t think the app saying that someone might have passed them by in a supermarket is actually that useful anymore in the current state of the pandemic.”

He added: “It doesn’t seem to be appropriate at the moment… it seems to be overkill.” …

The Government has dismissed calls to change the sensitivity of the app, but has announced exemptions for a “small number” of fully vaccinated critical workers who are identified as close contacts of coronavirus cases.

Mr Turner called on the Government to test healthy emergency workers daily so they will not automatically be taken off frontline duties.

He told the BBC: “We have got to provide a service. We suddenly find ourselves cancelling rest days and cancelling leave and bringing officers in from other shifts to cover where we have got the gaps.

“However, our call times will go up, we will miss some calls we would normally pick up because we have less resilience in the call centre and all of these things will have a knock-on effect for the Cleveland public.” …

An NPCC spokesman said: “Nationally, the police officer and staff absence rate is 7.3%. However, in some forces some functions, such as control rooms, are experiencing higher levels of absence.

“Absence rates in control rooms affect a police force’s ability to respond promptly to calls from the public, in particular emergency calls.

“Police forces affected are guiding the public on how to contact the police while they are under strain. We are engaging with Government about how to best resolve this issue.”

Worth reading in full.

Why is the Government Claiming “One in Three” Test and Trace Contacts Become Infected When its Own Data Shows That to Be False?

In a desperate effort to encourage people to self-isolate when pinged by the NHS Covid app or contacted by Test and Trace – even cancelling their wedding day if necessary – the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said yesterday that: “One in three people contacted either by Test and Trace or the app go on to develop coronavirus.”

There’s just one problem with this latest nugget of fear-based nudgery: it’s not true.

Test and Trace get in touch with people’s contacts and ask them to self-isolate. The proportion of those contacts who become infected is known as the secondary attack rate (SAR). Public Health England publishes the data on this SAR from Test and Trace data in its Technical Briefings, so we know what it is. The most recent estimate for the SAR of the Delta variant (in June) is that 10.3% of an infected person’s household contacts become infected (the SAR for non-household contacts is considerably lower).

How, then, can it be true that one in three – 33% – of people contacted by Test and Trace or the app go on to develop coronavirus? That’s claiming the SAR of SARS-CoV-2 is around 33%, but the Government’s own published data says it’s more like 10%.

Can the Government back up its claims, and explain why it is stating that the SAR of Covid is more than three times the figure published in its own data?

Iceland Forced to Hire Thousands More Staff Because of “Pingdemic” Shortage

Supermarket chain Iceland is having to recruit 2,000 backup staff to stave off disruption caused by the “pingdemic” after the Government told businesses they “should not be encouraging [staff] to break isolation”. Iceland has been forced to reduce opening hours and to shut some stores due to staff being told to stay at home by the NHS Covid app. The Guardian has the story.

Richard Walker, the Head of Iceland, said that a handful of outlets had been forced to close after more than 1,000 workers – just more than three per cent of the group’s total – had been asked to self-isolate after being ‘pinged’ by the app.

However, he said the company had decided to take on more staff as the problems were patchy – with some stores experiencing much higher vacancy rates than others – while the number of people having to isolate was “growing about 50% week on week, and that was really alarming”.

Grocery chain Iceland is aiming to recruit 2,000 spare staff to help cover absences caused by the self-isolation “pingdemic”, as retailers warned it was becoming difficult to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked.

Walker called on the Government to adjust the app or self-isolation rules urgently, ahead of planned changes on August 16th. “Supermarkets need to focus on feeding the nation not writing to Government departments,” he said. He said that about 96% of those alerted by the NHS app who worked for Iceland did not test positive for Covid.

Andrew Opie, Director of Food at the British Retail Consortium trade body, said staff shortages could have an impact on opening hours and shelf stacking. 

“The ongoing ‘pingdemic’ is putting increasing pressure on retailers’ ability to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked. Government needs to act fast,” said Opie. “Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double vaccinated or can show a negative Covid test, to ensure there is no disruption to the public’s ability to get food and other goods.”

The warning came as the British Meat Processors’ Association (BMPA) said some plants had already been hit by staff shortages of up to 16% even without the impact of the pingdemic. 

“On top of the underlying worker shortage, we’re also hearing from some members that between 5% and 10% of their workforce have been ‘pinged’ by the [health service] app and asked to self-isolate,” said the Chief Executive of BMPA, Nick Allen.

The shortage of workers affected the meat products that require more labour to produce, he said, meaning those lines would be the first to be cut.

Worth reading in full.

To Isolate, or Not to Isolate: That Is the Question

Figures show that more than one million English pupils were out of school for ‘Covid-related reasons’ last week – 774,000 of these were self-isolating after having come into contact with another pupil at school who tested positive for the virus. In London, a Tube line has been suspended due to staff being told to isolate by the NHS Covid app. Meanwhile, businesses across the country – including Iceland and Greene King – have been forced to shut premises because of what is being termed the “pingdemic”.

There must have been a collective sigh of relief, then, when Business Minister Paul Scully told Times Radio this morning that “it’s up to individuals and employers” whether one should follow self-isolation rules after being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app. (Almost half of app users say they would be unlikely to isolate if they tested negative for the virus after being ‘pinged’, according to a recent survey.) But other Government officials were quick to stamp out the claim. The Guardian has more.

Number 10 said employers “should not be encouraging” workers to ignore isolation warnings, even though the app’s instructions are not legally enforceable, unlike contact from NHS Test and Trace which is a legal requirement.

The comments come amid a furious backlash from Conservative MPs over the use of the app which they claim is crippling businesses. The latest figures released by the NHS show more than half a million people were contacted and told to self-isolate between July 1st and July 7th, the highest weekly figure since the app launched.

On Monday Boris Johnson said that critical workers would be exempt, and would be allowed to use regular testing instead provided they are fully vaccinated, with full details expected later on Tuesday.

In comments likely to sow more public concern over the use of the app, Scully told Times Radio: “It’s important to understand the rules. You have to legally isolate if you are… contacted by Test and Trace, or if you’re trying to claim isolation payments.”

But he said there was a different legal basis to the app which he said was “to allow you to make informed decisions”. He added: “And I think by backing out of mandating a lot of things, we’re encouraging people to really get the data in their own hands to be able to make decisions on what’s best for them, whether they’re employer or an employee.”

Scully said people should still use the app to check into venues, which he said had saved an estimated 8,000 lives. “So it’s a really useful tool in our armoury alongside the vaccination programme, but obviously it’s up to individuals and employers,” he said.

“I know how frustrating this is, I had to self-isolate last week myself for over a week, and I know how incredibly mind-numbing it is as well as the impact on the economy and the impact on people’s mental health. So I totally get the frustration.”

A Number 10 spokesperson said: “Isolation remains the most important action people can take to stop the spread of the virus. Given the risk of having and spreading the virus when people have been in contact with someone with Covid it is crucial people isolate when they are told to do so, either by NHS Test and Trace or by the NHS Covid app.

“Businesses should be supporting employees to isolate, they should not be encouraging them to break isolation.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Even the official Office for National Statistics “Business impact of Covid survey” email has been struck off “due to self-isolating because of Covid”, according to the Spectator.