Freedom Day? Sadly not. Bowling Centres crippled by “Pingdemic”

On Monday this week (19th July 2021) Andrew Selous, Member of Parliament for SW Bedfordshire, spoke to Parliament to raise awareness of the devastating impact the current self-isolation rules are having on hospitality and leisure venues in his constituency such as GObowling in Dunstable.

Mr Selous asked, “if he (Nadhim Zahawi – Vaccines Minister) could share with the House the results of the test to release experiment? Like many businesses in my constituency, the Dine Yard restaurant in Leighton Buzzard had to close for a week, and I have been told that GObowling in Dunstable may have to close as well, because of a lack of staff.”

We’re very grateful for Mr Selous raising this issue, however the response he received, sadly, gave little hope.  The pilot scheme results aren’t expected for another one to two weeks. After which it is likely that only workplaces with established Asymptomatic Testing Sites (ATSs) will be eligible for exemption.  In all likelihood this will also be restricted to companies whose work impacts the infrastructure of the country.

What is the test to release experiment Mr Selous referred to?

This is the pilot scheme which PM Boris Johnson claimed to be part of at the weekend.  The scheme is assessing the effectiveness of daily lateral flow tests for those who have been in contact with people testing positive for coronavirus. So, rather than self-isolating for 10 days, people on the trial perform a lateral flow test, every morning for seven days. For each day their test is negative they are exempt from self-isolation.

The trial has been running since May 2021 and includes around 20 organisations. The evidence from this trail is set to build upon the research pilots which commenced in December 2020 which included over 200 schools and 180 workplaces.

Who can join the pilot?

According to the government website you can join the trail if you’re contacted by NHS Test and Trace. However, you’re not eligible if:

  • You’re pinged by the app
  • You have Covid-19 symptoms
  • Live outside of England
  • Are in full time education
  • Are under 18
  • The person who you’ve been in contact with has has a variant of concern (VOC) … the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta variants are all VOCs.

So, it’s hard to see who is actually in the trial given that the data up to 14th July 2021 has the majority of cases being Alpha or Delta variants.

How could the pilot help?

The assumption is that there are a considerable number of people who, even though they have been in contact with some who has tested positive for coronavirus, do not contract the virus. Therefore, there are large swathes of people who are currently self-isolating, who don’t need to.

The hope is that the pilot will prove that the use of daily lateral flow test is sufficiently accurate in identifying when a person has got coronavirus. This alert triggers isolation and a PCR test.

From what minister Zahawi said, should the pilot prove effective then companies who can offer an on-site testing facility (asymptomatic testing site) could provide twice weekly tests for staff, exempting them from self-isolating, should they have no symptoms.

That said, it is unlikely that the results from the pilot and the actions required to gain exemption will be in place before 16th August, when the self-isolation rules are set to relax.

The impact on bowling centres

Following nearly 18 months of Covid-19 related closures and restrictions there was considerable jubilation at the prospect of Freedom Day. However, the reality has been considerably harsher.

The current self-isolation rules mean that staff contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service are legally required to self-isolate for 10 days.  Regardless of whether the staff member has received vaccinations, have negative lateral flow or PCR tests, staff must adhere to 10 days of isolation, or face fines in excess of £1,000.

With both Brexit and Covid creating a significant shortfall in people available to work, venues were already stretched to service their standard opening times. Now, with summer holidays upon us, and most people staycationing in the UK, demand for leisure facilities is set to soar.

Sadly, businesses across the country are facing closure as their stretched workforce are falling foul of the current “Pingdemic”, with hundreds of thousands of employees forced to stay home.

It is therefore unsurprising to hear that owners of bowling centres, like GObowling, continue to lobby their local MPs to stress that the current situation could see the closure of their business. That it simply isn’t possible to sit out the next three and half weeks until the self-isolation rules relax on 16th August.

If you’d like to get in touch with your local MP you can find out who they are and their contact details on the UK Parliament website.

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