Harrogate Council warns of potential disruption to services due to 'pingdemic'

There are fresh warnings that council services could face disruptions due to staff self-isolating as Covid infections in Harrogate reach record levels.

Harrogate Council has warned its services will not be immune to the effects of staff self-isolation alerts (Getty Images)

Some services including swimming pools and tourist information centres have yet to return to normal since lockdown and there are now concerns that they could be hit by more staff being alerted by the NHS Covid-19 app.

Councillor Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate Borough Council, said people should not expect that public services, also including bin collections, will be “immune” to the same disruptions seen in the private sector at retail and hospitality businesses.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

He told a meeting on Wednesday: “Many of the services that have reopened such as pools, gyms and the whole of the leisure sector employ people who are predominately young – and these people are those who have either had one or jab or no jabs yet.

“With infection levels rising, it may be that the pressure seen in other industries – retail, hospitality and what have you – may affect us.

“I want to get that level of expectation out there now. While we are not having difficulties with service delivery at the moment, it may come to a time when we do.”

On Monday, 20 out of around 1,000 council staff were self-isolating.

Nationally, more than 600,000 people in England and Wales were sent self-isolation alerts by the NHS Covid-19 app in the week between 8 and 15 July.

That was a 17% rise from the previous week – and there are complaints that the alerts are causing serious staff shortages.

Self-isolation for all fully-vaccinated people ‘pinged’ by the app is due to be scrapped by 16 August, although there are calls for this to be brought forward.

The app alert is only advisory and not enforceable by law, unlike a phone call from the Test and Trace team.

In June, an outbreak among staff caused delays to waste and recycling collections in the Harrogate district.

And before Starbeck Baths reopened this week, Trevor Watson, the council’s director for economy, environment and housing, warned that the need for leisure staff to self-isolate would have an “unavoidable impact” on services.

He said: “We continue to face the challenge that, if any staff get a notification from the NHS Test and Trace app to self-isolate, then they must do so.

“For many of us, this doesn’t present a problem as we can work at home. But for our leisure centre staff this isn’t possible and sadly has an unavoidable impact on the services we provide.”

The warnings come as Harrogate’s weekly infection rate has passed its previous record of 497 cases per 100,000 people in January to 532 on Sunday.

However, hospital admissions remain low with just three patients at the district hospital on Wednesday – and there has not been a Covid-related death there in more than three months thanks to high levels of vaccine uptake.