Hospitality businesses are facing a situation "worse than lockdown" with venues forced to close without financial support due to staff needing to self-isolate.
Restaurants, pubs and hotels across the country are having to shut or reduce trading hours due to team members being told to stay at home by the NHS Test and Trace app. Anyone notified they have been close to someone with coronavirus must isolate for up to 10 days, even if they test negative.
Operators cannot claim grants for the closures and the issue has made trading more difficult for those already struggling with staff shortages.
"It's the biggest challenge we have, and it seems to be getting worse," said Graham Harris, chief financial officer at the East London Pub Co, who has had to move staff across different sites to cover for isolating team members.
"We've had to reduce trading hours on some pubs. Our new site in Clapham opened two weeks ago and we've decided to close on Mondays [due to a lack of staff]."
Lauren Irlam, owner of the Nibble NQ café in Manchester, has had to repeatedly self-isolate after being notified by the NHS Test and Trace app. The café was briefly closed but is now open with reduced capacity after three of the four staff were ‘pinged' by the app.
"In some respects, it's worse than lockdown as we were supported [by grants] then," said Irlam. "We're in a worse place because we'll open and prep all the food then have to close. It's like throwing money down the drain.
"I have staff who are double vaccinated and have tested negative but still can't work. I'm stuck feeling helpless. There's no compensation for the individuals or businesses [who can't work] – we're left high and dry."
Inception Group co-founder Charlie Gilkes described the situation as a "lockdown in all but name" for hospitality, adding: "It feels like a game of snakes and ladders. You climb one ladder then go back down again. Now hospitalisations are so low the rules in place feel like overkill."
Tim Foster, co-founder of the Yummy Pub Co, said the lack of clarity over where the contact occurred was frustrating. "I've had three of my senior team so far ‘pinged' with no phone calls from [Test and Trace] to discuss the circumstances of the supposed venue or place where it could have happened," he said. All staff members have tested negative but are unable to work following the notification.
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls tweeted that the trade body has proposed a ‘test to release' or ‘test to remain' scheme to allow vaccinated staff an earlier return to work.
Joe Cussens, managing director at the Bath Pub Company, said a growing number of customers were cancelling bookings due to being ‘pinged' by the app. He echoed calls for a 'test to release' scheme and said the government must clarify whether the 10-day isolation will remain beyond the 19 July 'Freedom Day' in England.
"It's very galling to hear [the government] sound upbeat about 19 July when we've got a problem going on right now that seems to be going unnoticed," he said. "Are they going to change the rules? What should we be doing if staff test negative and are double vaccinated? They need to clarify because at the moment it's a complete shambles."
Bill Addy, chief executive of Liverpool BID Company, which represents 1,000 businesses in Liverpool city centre, is calling for specific support for those having to close.
He said: "Imagine seeing your business survive the past 18 months, only to see it threatened while the government shouts about recovery. A dedicated grant to support these firms would help cover the costs they still have to invest in while they close their doors – things like food they can no longer sell, or staff costs as furlough cover reduces, rent and more."
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