'Mixed messaging' amid 'pingdemic'

Ministers mixed messages on self-isolation not helping UK manufacturing, says Unite

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Unite has criticised the mixed messages coming from government about self-isolation rules, after business minister Paul Scully told the Times Radio that if people are ‘pinged’ by the Test and Trace app, employers and workers can choose to ignore the instruction to self-isolate.

Not long after, Downing Street urged people to self-isolate whenever instructed to, whether they were contacted by Test and Trace directly or were told to self-isolate by the app.

“Isolation remains the most important action people can take to stop the spread of the virus,” a No 10 spokesperson said. “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,” the spokesperson added.

The statement contradicts what Scully said earlier in his interview with the Radio Times, when he said that those pinged by the app could make their own decisions.

“I think by backing out of mandating a lot of things, we are 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 are employer or an employee,” Scully said in reference to people being pinged by the app.

The mixed messaging comes as prime minister Boris Johnson announced Monday (July 19) evening that certain as of yet unspecified ‘critical workers’ would be exempt from self-isolation, and can take daily tests instead, provided that they are fully vaccinated.

The government has not yet released details of this exemption scheme and which critical workers could take part, but it said the details would be forthcoming.

Both the prime minister and chancellor Rishi Sunak faced a backlash of criticism at the weekend after it was revealed that they were planning on avoiding self-isolation after being in contact with health secretary Sajid Javid who tested positive for coronavirus.

Johnson and Sunak said they were going to participate in a scheme to test every day instead of self-isolating and only carry out ‘essential government business’. But after the wave of public criticism, they U-turned only hours later and said they would self-isolate.

Various industries, including the automotive industry, have raised serious concerns that a ‘pingdemic’ of people being told to self-isolate by the app has all but ground their businesses to a halt. In the most recent data available, 1.6m people were told to self-isolate by the app over a one-week period.

Commenting, Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing Steve Turner said, “Unite would welcome any move by ministers to keep plants moving and our manufacturing members working, as long as it does so in a safe and considered manner.

“If we are to prevent production lines closing and even more jobs going, then manufacturing industries need government to step up and work with employers and unions on the solution,” he added.

“For plants to remain open now and in the months ahead, there needs to be faster testing, the continuation of free lateral flow tests for employers, a statutory sick pay rate that means people will actually stay off if ill and the extension of the furlough scheme,” Turner continued.

“All these things are needed to get the country, which is now leading the world for infection rates, through the next wave of the virus.

“Unfortunately, the mixed messages emanating from government gives a strong impression that ministers are flying by the seat of their pants,” he went on to say.

“We need strong thoughtful leadership to prevent public health being put at risk while keeping UK PLC open, because we will all suffer if the government continues to make things up as it goes along.”

By Hajera Blagg

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