Northampton hospitality businesses struggling as calls grow for Covid-19 self-isolation rules to change
'It's like the Sword of Damocles swinging over us all the time'
Northampton pubs and restaurants say they are struggling as calls are growing for Covid-19 isolation rules to be changed to stop businesses from having to close.
The test and trace system forces already struggling hospitality businesses to reduce their hours or shut as whole teams may need to self-isolate, according to national trade body UKHospitality.
Liz Cox, who runs The Old Five Bells pub in Kingsthorpe, said she has only had one member of staff told to self-isolate at short notice but that forced them to reduce the size of a function.
Stewart Wright, the owner of Nuovo restaurant on Abington Street, said: "It's like the Sword of Damocles swinging over us all the time.
"We're open now and everything hunky dory and things will be better from July 19, but we live in fear of the app bleeping and telling everyone to stay home - it's a nightmare.
"It hasn't happened to me yet but we would lose thousands in employment, revenue and waste if it happened at a weekend."
A government spokesperson said self-isolation was currently an essential part of its strategy but hospitality bosses want it changed to a 'test and release' system.
Mr Wright said that would be welcomed but it would not solve the problem of having a staff member pull out of a shift at short notice because 'they have been told to self-isolate'.
He said: "What do I do on that day? Can I test everyone before they come into work? But would that be illegal? And will they be told to self-isolate or have to?
"It's out of my hands so I think customers would be understanding but there's no plan for when that happens."
The problem is exacerbated by the chronic shortage in hospitality staff with so many getting new jobs during the lockdowns and not returning when businesses reopened.
Ms Cox said the pub is pretty quiet most of the time so she can cover the shifts by herself but when it is busy at the weekends or when football is on, she struggles as she cannot find enough flexible workers.
Test and trace is also putting customers off from coming out as it creates a risk of them getting told to self-isolate, the landlady said, giving them another reason to stay at home.
"The whole thing has been a total nightmare for us from start to finish. We know we have to do it but it's stopping people from coming out and we can't afford to open in the week anymore," she said.