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Rising Covid cases and staff isolating risks more closures

Rising Covid cases amongst staff as well as whole teams self-isolating after being contact traced are causing havoc for fish and chip shops, resulting in staff shortages and in some cases leading to full closure.

Although the government is easing most Covid restrictions in England on 19th July, the rules on self-isolation do not change until 16th August and even then only apply to the double jabbed, leading to fears it could cause chaos for the industry this summer and put livelihoods at risk.

According to UK Hospitality, around 60% of staff in hospitality are aged between 15-34, a vast majority of which will not have received both jabs by the 16th August.

Industry body The NFFF says increasing numbers of its members are getting in touch with concerns or to say they are closed, prompting president Andrew Crook to describe the situation as the “most dangerous time for businesses”.

He comments: “There are more shops closed now than any other time during the pandemic and it’s likely to increase.

“It might not be a health crisis right now because we have the vaccine, but for businesses this is the most dangerous time. Everyone is mixing, people are going back to normal but there are a lot of infected people out there and that’s only going to increase, so the chances of staff getting Covid or being told to isolate is increasing exponentially.

"The way most shops operate, it only takes a couple of staff to be told to isolate for it to put pressure on a business while if someone in a shop tests positive, that could be your business closed.”

Fred Capel, owner of Chez Fred in Bournemouth, recently closed his restaurant for 11 days and his takeaway for three days after four staff members contracted Covid while socialising outside of work.

Fred is worried too that the situation is going to get worse and says: “The reality is our industry, like a lot of the hospitality industry, has many people within that lower age group that haven’t been double vaccinated and which Covid is spreading through like wildfire so, in effect, unlocking the doors on the freedoms those people have but then having the same isolation policy as before is carnage.

“Also lots of those people within those age groups that are getting Covid don’t even know they’ve got it. It’s like a hand grenade ending up in your business.”

Fred is now enforcing daily lateral flow tests for his team and says if the situation gets worse he will close his restaurant until September and have several teams running the takeaway only.

He adds: “I read that said we are predicted to have over 2 million Covid cases over the summer and 10 million people having to isolate. I can’t think of many businesses that won’t be affected by that.

“As an industry, we have worked so hard to be Covid secure but we can never control what our staff do outside work so with restrictions being lifted I can only see it getting worse after 19th July - unless you have a whole team that is double vaccinated.”

Krispies’ delivery and click and collect site at Pines Road, Exmouth, is another casualty. Forced to close earlier this week until Sunday after a member of staff tested positive, five further employees were told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, resulting in a staff shortage.

Owner Kelly Barnes says it’s putting huge pressure on her business, adding: “We’re lucky to have two shops so we’ve kept Exeter Road open and moved deliveries down to there, but we’re still losing a turnover of about £12,000 a week at this time of year. And it only takes one more person to get Covid and we’ll have to close Exeter Road too so it has a massive effect.

“It’s great that from 16th August you won’t have to isolate if you’ve been in contact with someone that has tested positive but that’s a long way away.

"I’m very nervous about July 19th from a business point, it’s going to be an uncertain time and there is going to be a lot of Covid cases over the summer.”

Krispies is carrying out twice weekly lateral flow tests on all staff and has been in talks with its local pharmacy to ensure its team is vaccinated against Covid as soon as possible.

“That’s the one thing I would recommend all shops do, encourage all your staff members to take up the vaccine as soon as possible. Not only will it protect them but if they are double-jabbed by 16th August they will not have to isolate.”

Soni Sidhu, owner of Sidhu’s Fish & Chips in Wallsend, Tyne & Wear, hasn’t closed once during the Covid pandemic yet says he’s just one staff member being told they have to isolate away from that happening.

He comments: “We’ve got three members of staff off currently, so it was just me and my wife in yesterday. We close at 10pm so with all the extra work we were doing and prep for the next day, I didn’t get to sleep until 2am and I'm back in today. If things don’t improve, we’ll have to close until the staff finish their self-isolation period, we can’t continue like this.

“It’s added stress to what is not a great period for us, a lot of our customers have been taken away from us and still aren’t coming back yet.”

Soni says he feels frustrated, having worked through the pandemic fully staffed with no risk to the business. He adds: “We felt safer and were fully staffed throughout the virus, even at its peak when the country came to a standstill the business was more solid than it is now. This is not how things should be. Something has to change because staff are being sent home for the sake of being sent home and it makes no sense.

“I’m dreading 19th July. At first I was ecstatic, it meant people could go back to work and would come out and we’d see some of our customers again, but with Covid infection rates increasing, it’s a double-edged sword. Things aren’t going to get better.

"Unless changes are made then it’s not going to be something to look forward to.”

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