Jul 22, 2021 - World

Free of COVID restrictions, England now faces contact tracing "pingdemic"

Empty shelves at a Tesco supermarket in central London on July 22, 2021

Empty shelves at a Tesco supermarket in central London on July 22. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

Supermarkets and wholesalers in the U.K. are beginning to face shortages after the government's official health app told hundreds of thousands of workers to self-isolate after contact with someone with COVID-19, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: The "pingdemic" disruptions pose a new challenge to the highly vaccinated U.K., which is reporting more than 50,000 new COVID-19 cases per day as the Delta variant tears through the country.

  • U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted virtually all pandemic restrictions in England on July 19, which threatens to exacerbate the problem further.
  • 88% of adults have received at least one vaccine dose and 69% have received two doses, per Reuters. 60% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people, according to health officials.

Driving the news: The National Health Service's contact tracing app that notifies people to isolate for 10 days after COVID-19 exposure has tarnished Johnson's plan to fully reopen England's economy.

  • "We're very concerned about the situation," Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said, per Reuters. "We're monitoring the situation."
  • The supermarket group Iceland said it closed a number of stores due to staff shortages.
  • "We have a structural issue with [a shortage of] HGV drivers for a variety of different reasons, but of course the 'pingdemic' has made it even worse," Iceland's managing director Richard Walker told ITV. "We are starting to see some availability issues."
  • Sainsbury's, the U.K.'s second-largest supermarket group, said customers should be able to find the products they want, but perhaps not every brand.

Between the lines: To avoid the disruption, many individuals have deleted the contact tracing app from their phones, per Reuters.

Go deeper