A technical glitch which saw 16,000 cases of Covid-19 go unreported has hampered contact tracing efforts, but Public Health England has insisted that the issue has now been resolved. Meanwhile, Mohammed Abdul, owner and director of Leamington Spa’s award-winning Indian restaurant, Millennium Balti, reveals how the pandemic forced his business to adapt their entire business strategy and offering in order to survive.
Leadership in Focus
As was the case with all hospitality businesses when the UK lockdown was called on March 23, Millennium Balti was required to close until ministers and scientists deemed it safe to reopen. While takeaways were allowed to remain open, Millennium Balti offered only a collection service alongside its restaurant business prior to the lockdown, and so rather than shake-up its offering immediately, Mohammed Abdul, who runs the restaurant with his three brothers, opted to initially close the business completely in the interest of safety for both staff and customers.
Explaining the reasons behind his thinking on the Leaders Council podcast, Abdul said: “The pandemic has affected everyone in different ways. For us, we do offer takeaways as well as dining in, but 90 per cent of our business was on the dine-in side. For the takeaway business, we did not have a delivery system in place prior to the lockdown, we only did collections. When the lockdown was called, we had to close the restaurant, and we were closed for three-and-a-half months. During this time, I thought it was best in the interests of safety for my staff and customers to close completely and not offer any services at all.”
When the hospitality sector was given the green light to reopen by the government, the strict conditions that the restaurant area was required to comply with meant that it took some time to implement safety procedures to allow the restaurant to reopen, so the business was unable to resume its dine-in service straight away. It was at this point that Abdul decided that a change in strategy was required.
“Upon reopening, we weren’t initially able to open for dining-in which made it difficult for us. So, we had to change our strategy to cater for deliveries which was a change for the business. The collection side of the takeaway business ran well at the start since the first few days after reopening were busy, maybe due to our regular customers missing us. After those first few days it began to slow down, so we had to close the business for several days in the week because we could not financially justify opening without sufficient trade.”
Even after the dine-in restaurant was able to return after much hard work putting Covid-secure measures in place, Abdul felt that the post-lockdown atmosphere between customers and staff differed enormously and was likely to be this way for some time.
Abdul elaborated: “Once we were able to resume our dine-in service and we had safety procedures in place, I think some people were still hesitant to come and eat out. Given we have a small 54-seat restaurant, we had to reduce capacity to 26 seats to comply with social distancing. Instead of maintaining a distance of one-plus metres, we kept it at three metres between tables all the way around our premises as an extra precaution, and we also have hands-free sanitiser stations and Perspex screens around the restaurant.
“We also decided to add an extra step of taking the temperatures of customers on entry, we thoroughly planned out how to take customer’s details for track and trace, and we have had to do more regular deep cleans of the restaurant area all in the interest of safety and encouraging people that it is safe to enter our premises.
“There were a lot of extra things we had to implement and has been strange and different for us. It is not the same atmosphere in the restaurant now, we all wear masks when interacting with customers, so it is not like it was before at all. I feel it will have a permanent impact on our business too. Slowly, I think things will get back to normality, but it will never be the same as it was.”
Despite the scarring effects of the pandemic on the hospitality sector and how it operates, Abdul remained determined to focus on the positives.
“There are positives and negatives to this situation, it has made us think in a different way and not take things for granted, and we’ve had new business strategies and ideas that we’ve looked at and implemented which will help us improve.”
For Abdul, robust leadership of the business was critical in keeping every member of the Millennium Balti team focused and plotting a course through the crisis.
Abdul said: “In my view, a leader is someone who can take charge with a full team behind them, think of new ideas and adapt and change to the current situation. It is no good just following others, you can take ideas from others, but everyone runs their own race and everyone’s circumstances differ. Leadership is all about moving forward, taking ownership of the situation even when things are beyond your control, and setting an example for others. That is what I have tried to do in my leadership of the business, especially during Covid.”
Public Health England [PHE] has said that a technical “glitch” saw 15,841 positive Covid-19 cases go unreported in the UK daily figures between September 25 and October 2, delaying efforts to trace the people who came into close contact with them.
PHE said that the positive cases had been instructed to self-isolate, but the close contacts of those people initially had not. The body reported that outstanding cases were passed onto contact tracers by 01:00 BST on Saturday October 3, so that tracking close contacts could commence.
The outstanding cases were then added onto the daily figures which saw Saturday’s new reported cases hit 12,872, with a further 22,961 declared on Sunday.
Health secretary Matt Hancock is expected to make a statement in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon in the wake of the fiasco, with the government unable to confirm on Monday morning how many close contacts of the missed positive cases had not been told to self-isolate.
Work and Pensions secretary Therese Coffey said that the problem was being rectified to “get those contacts potentially into the system” and contacted “as is appropriate” but said that she did not have the information of how many close contacts had gone overlooked when quizzed on BBC Breakfast.
When asked if they had now been reached, she said: "I know that people who had the initial results have all been contacted, I don't know the answer to that question.
"We can't change the recent history, PHE will make sure that this sort of error doesn't happen again but they did pick up this error and I think they've acted quickly to rectify it."
The Labour Party branded the situation "shambolic".
Elsewhere, Kate Bingham, the head of the government’s vaccine taskforce, has informed the Financial Times that a working Covid-19 vaccine will not be offered to under-18s and will serve as “an adult-only vaccine for people over 50, focusing on health workers, care home workers, and the vulnerable.”
This could see less than half of the UK population vaccinated against Covid-19.
Meanwhile, prime minister Boris Johnson told the BBC on Sunday that there was “hope” of beating the disease but warned that it could be “bumpy through to Christmas” and beyond.
Johnson called on the British public to “act fearlessly but with common sense” as the government grapples to reassert control over the virus’ spread through the population.
Leadership in History
October 5 throughout history has been a significant date with regards to leadership. On this day in 610, Heraclius arrived at Constantinople and killed Byzantine emperor Phocas, taking his place as emperor of the Byzantine Empire. *
In 816, King Louis the Pious was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by Pope Stephen IV.
On October 5, 1905, the Wright brothers piloted the Wright Flyer III in a new world record flight of 24 miles in 39 minutes.
In 1910, the Portuguese monarchy was overthrown after two days of rebellion and a republic was proclaimed from Lisbon’s City Hall.
In the year 1947, US president Truman made the first televised address from the Oval Office.
*Source: Olster, David Michael. The politics of usurpation in the seventh century: rhetoric and revolution in Byzantium [1993 ed.]. A.M. Hakkert. p. 133.