How the island that launched the Covid app is now on its knees due to pingdemic

·5-min read
Isle of Wight - Roger Arbon/Solent News & Photo Agency UK
Isle of Wight - Roger Arbon/Solent News & Photo Agency UK

When the Isle of Wight became the first place to trial the NHS Test and Trace app, residents and businesses said that they were proud to be leading the fight against coronavirus.

But now the island which pioneered the technology is being brought to its knees by it, with business owners warning that the so-called "pingdemic" could do more harm than the actual pandemic.

Just as they head into their busiest time of year, the pubs, restaurants and attractions which rely on tourism to survive are having to close their doors or run reduced hours because their staff are isolating.

Even the Red Funnel ferry service - which travels from Southampton to the island - has had to drastically reduce the number of crossings it makes for two weeks after it lost 30 per cent of its workforce.

The island has been expecting more visitors than usual due to travel restrictions forcing many Britons to choose staycations this summer, but there are now doubts over the ability of businesses to stay open.

In Ventnor, described as the Riviera of the Isle of Wight, all of the main pubs and restaurants overlooking the sea have been impacted.

Isle of Wight - Roger Arbon /Solent News & Photo Agency
Isle of Wight - Roger Arbon /Solent News & Photo Agency

The Spyglass Inn, which boasts views of the bay and has been described as having one of the best locations on the south coast of England, had to close for two days due to lack of staff. It is currently shutting at 5pm every day as ten staff are isolating.

The general manager, Adam Edmunds, 38, said: "The pingdemic has affected our business quite badly. We had a shortage of staff in the first place and then people are getting pinged so we have had to close and reduce our opening hours for the first time in 30 years.

"We have a lot of tourists coming down during the summer season, all of the holiday places are full and right now there is nowhere for them to go."

Ventnor Winter Gardens, a brasserie and bar in an iconic building which dates back to 1936, also sits on Ventnor Bay and has felt the repercussions of the 'pingdemic'.

John Sturgeon, 80, who helps run the Ventnor Winter Gardens pub, said: "Getting members of staff is the most difficult thing in the world as there is a shortage. We've been struggling all week long.

"We had a few positives and had to close down for a couple of days while we had the place cleaned.

"We are operating normally now, but we can't do food all the time because we haven't got the chef - we won't be operating a kitchen fully until next week. We're just trying to be optimistic."

Isle of Wight - Roger Arbon/Solent News & Photo Agency
Isle of Wight - Roger Arbon/Solent News & Photo Agency

The Garlic Farm, based in the Arreton Valley, which offers guests tractor tours, a stay in a yurt and even has an award-winning restaurant, fears the worst is yet to come.

Barnaby Edwards, 47, who runs the farm with his wife, Natasha, in Sandown said: "We are braced for it to get worse because I know a lot of other businesses locally are being hit by it.

"It's a problem. Just when we thought we were able to get on, it's potentially a bigger blow to business than anything else.

"We have six off right now which is about ten per cent of our staff during peak summer.

"If these numbers continue as national figures indicate they will, we are really going to come unstuck as we hit the peak season with school closures. We are very worried about it."

Holidaymakers are already feeling the impact, with many unable to find anywhere to eat or drink because of the closures.

One said: "We are lucky, because we booked restaurants weeks in advance, but if one of the places we had booked had to close because of the pingdemic then we would not have been able to get a table anywhere else.

"One family of five sat on the beach on Saturday trying to work out where they were going for dinner and they rang round at least ten pubs and restaurants and were told that they had no tables available until Wednesday.

Red Funnel ferry - Roger Arbon/Solent News & Photo Agency
Red Funnel ferry - Roger Arbon/Solent News & Photo Agency

"It might be the year of the staycation, but the pingdemic means that towns are simply not able to cater for this many tourists. There will be a lot of disappointed holiday makers."

Promises that double jabbed people will no longer have to isolate from the middle of August will provide little relief to businesses, who often rely on younger staff members to fill the seasonal demand who are unlikely to have had both vaccines yet.

Derek Needham, the 67-year-old charity manager of the Donkey Sanctuary based in Wroxall, said 50 per cent of his staff have either have only had one jab or are yet to be vaccinated.

Mr Needham said: "Our staff are not going to be double jabbed until early September. We are relatively safe at the moment because we have 55 acres of land, but we have limited what activities we do to keep our staff safe.

"We have already had our suppliers to the café notify us of changes to certain products they can't get hold of and they are restricting some deliveries because they have been affected by the 'pingdemic'.

"None of our staff have been pinged yet but I am concerned about it."

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