The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Let us test at work to beat the ‘pingdemic’
Top firms including John Lewis and Jaguar say regular swabs can end the chaos caused by staff isolating
BUSINESS leaders are today urging the Government to throw its weight behind vital Covid testing schemes that have helped firms such as John Lewis and Jaguar Land Rover to beat the ‘pingdemic’.
Bosses say a major workplace Covid testing drive could play a critical role in keeping the economy firing after 600,000 people were forced into self-isolation after having been pinged by the Test and Trace app.
Some firms including John Lewis, Jaguar Land Rover and Heathrow Airport have been using a testing pilot scheme called ‘daily contact testing’ (DCT), which allows employees to keep going to work after being pinged or contacted by Test and Trace.
Instead of isolating, staff without Covid symptoms take Government-provided rapid lateral flow tests when they arrive at work for seven consecutive days. If they test negative, they are allowed to enter the workplace.
Thousands of companies have also been given free lateral flow testing kits for routine use by the Government under a separate scheme called the workplace testing programme.
But in a major blow, both schemes are set to end on Saturday – two weeks before the double-jabbed no longer need to isolate – even though workplace testing has been extraordinarily successful at cutting Covid transmission and keeping workplaces open.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that just 2 per cent of John Lewis employees have tested positive since January under the daily contact testing scheme. That meant 98 in every 100 were able to carry on working without disruption, with no major outbreaks in John Lewis workplaces.
And earlier this year, our Tests at Work campaign successfully lobbied Ministers to hand out free testing kits to more companies, after we revealed a trial had saved thousands of sick days and avoided entire factory shutdowns at major employers including Dixons, Boohoo, EDF and Tata.
The soaring numbers of staff isolating after being ‘pinged’ by the NHS app has led to cancelled trains, empty supermarket shelves and postal delays over the past week.
In response, the Government has opened up the daily contact testing scheme to a selection of key workers in food, transport and other critical industries – meaning they can avoid isolation by getting tested each day at one of hundreds of dedicated sites across Britain. But bosses say that still leaves great swathes of the working population at risk of being forced into isolation if they are contacted by Test and Trace, threatening Britain’s economic recovery. This will be true even after the rules change for the double-jabbed on August 16, as many younger workers will not yet have received their second dose.
Business leaders now want Ministers to allow all companies to swab their own staff daily – using free testing kits provided by the Government – to avoid tens of thousands more going into isolation.
Andrew Murphy, executive director for operations at John Lewis Partnership, which also owns Waitrose, said: ‘To lose this trial at the end of July is really distressing.’
CBI president Lord Bilimoria said: ‘It’s high time to fast forward the move to allow those double-jabbed to not self-isolate if not infectious.
‘We also need a test and release scheme for those who have not been double-jabbed. If the [DCT scheme] works then it should expand to more firms than a mere handful, so it’s good to see the food industry now involved.’
Businesses may be advised to collect kits from community testing hubs or to stump up for lateral flow tests themselves.
Lord Bilimoria added: ‘Workplaces must have access to an effective, accessible and free testing regime. With free workplace testing due to end in a matter of days, firms need urgent clarity on how community testing will work in practice.’
Car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover said using DCT across its manufacturing plants ‘has reduced the number of people we have self-isolating’.
Will Wilson, chief executive of transport specialist Siemens Mobility where more than 5 per cent of the workforce are isolating, said: ‘Extending the successful workplace testing scheme can help us avoid unnecessary self-isolations and keep the transport network running.’
Pimlico Plumbers chief executive Scott Mullins said: ‘It’s time to move away from a system that sends hundreds of thousands of healthy people off work at any given time and switch to more vigorous testing instead.’
He said his firm has more staff off work now than at any time since the pandemic began.
Adrian Hallmark, chief executive of luxury carmaker Bentley, said: ‘Testing has enabled us to keep our crew safe from Covid and keep going.
‘Testing is absolutely essential in getting us through this part of the pandemic.’