Two London Underground lines forced to shut by mass self-isolating staff shortages

Closed entrance to Leicester Square underground station due to social distancing as Londoners await the announcement of a second coronavirus lockdown before a month-long total lockdown in the UK on 30th October 2020 in London, United Kingdom. The three tier system in the UK has not worked sufficiently, to suppress the virus, and there have have been calls by politicians for a 'circuit breaker' complete lockdown to be announced to help the growing spread of the Covid-19. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
Two London Underground lines will stop running over the weekend due to staf shortages as workers self-isolate (Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Two London Underground lines will stop running this weekend due to more than 300 staff self-isolating.

Transport for London said London Underground’s Circle line and Hammersmith and City line will fully close, and there will also be disruption to services on the District and Metropolitan lines.

Last Saturday the Metropolitan line was suspended due to control room staff being alerted by the app in the morning.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said on Friday trains are likely to be cancelled and delayed in the coming weeks due to the 'pingdemic'.

With record numbers of people being told to self-isolate after being 'pinged' by the NHS COVID-19 app due to the massive rise in cases, supermarket shelves have lain empty and businesses have warned they will struggle to cope.

Almost 619,000 alerts were sent to app users in England and Wales in the week to 14 July, the latest NHS figures show.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 15, 2020: Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice arrives in Downing Street in central London to attend Cabinet meeting held at the Foreign Office on 15 December, 2020 in London, England. The UK and EU leaders have agreed to carry on post-Brexit trade talks and vowed to go 'extra mile' to try and reach a deal, with less than three weeks until the end of the transition period.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Environment secretary George Eustice has warned that rail networks will face disruption deu to staff having to self-isolate (Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Businesses have reported staff shortages in key industries including transport and retail, with food disappearing from supermarket shelves because so many delivery drivers have been pinged.

Only a small number of roles in transport are included in the government's list of people exempt from isolating if pinged. Earlier this week it was announced that healthcare staff would be exempt from self-isolation.

The exemptions list, which applies to some workers within 16 industries, has been criticised as being confusing, too narrow, and for failing to cover a wide range of workers many would consider to be critical.

Eustice defended the list saying it is intentionally "quite limited" because the government wants to avoid a "general approach that anybody can say they're critical".

"It's been deliberately drawn to be quite narrow," he said.

A sign requesting shoppers' patience about products temporarily out of stock is displayed on empty shelves in a supermarket at Nine Elms, south London on July 22, 2021. - British supermarkets and suppliers warned today of possible food shortages due to staff self-isolating, as rising coronavirus cases threaten chaos after the government controversially eased all restrictions earlier this week. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Supermarkets have warned of food shortages as vast numbers of workers are forced to self-isolate after being 'pinged' by the NHS track and trace app (Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

Asked how train services could continue with only a few roles within the industry protected, Eustice said: "You have to differentiate between potentially having a lack of train drivers in which case not every train runs on time and some trains are cancelled and that's a consequence of staff absence.

"We recognise that that's a reality over these next few weeks," he added.

Rail unions say train services will be reduced from next week because of staff shortages, which they warn could lead to overcrowding.

Thameslink and Southern will cut its weekday timetables on five routes from Monday "until further notice". Avanti West Coast is also cutting trains from Monday on its routes between London Euston and Manchester, Birmingham and North Wales.

London Northwestern Railway will introduce a revised timetable with fewer services from Saturday, while South Western Railways said it had "made pre-emptive changes to some services this weekend".

"Other services may also be subject to short-notice change," it added.

Watch: UK food supply chain workers no longer need to self isolate

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: "There is a real danger of a headlong rush into these new measures driven by this inept government which could make a bad situation even worse.

"We are already hearing of planned reductions to rail services next week due to staff shortages."

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Friday that the Government risks “losing social consent” for isolation if it does not immediately bring forward the relaxation of quarantine rules for the fully vaccinated, currently planned for 16 August.

This was echoed by former business secretary and current chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee Greg Clark.

The Tory MP told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “We know that on 16 August a new system will come in, in which you can take a test if you’re named as a contact and only isolate if you’re positive – I don’t see why we can’t begin that now on 23 July rather than wait.”

But Eustice told Sky News the date “at the moment is not coming forward”.

He said: “Things can always change in either direction but the reason we set these days is to give people some kind of indication about what they can expect.”

Industry leaders have warned they will face staff shortages and lost revenue because of the number of workers having to self-isolate despite the plans.

The Local Government Association said directors of public health were already being overwhelmed with queries from employers who believe their staff should be exempt, and services provided by local authorities such as bin collections, road repairs, and park maintenance could be hit.

Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Pilot schemes for ‘test to release’ options have been running for some time now and we would urge the Government to immediately bring forward the results of those test schemes and set out how this could be used to enable more double-vaccinated people to avoid self-isolation beyond this narrow group of critical workers.”

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