AROUND 10,000 supermarket supply chain workers will be exempt from self-isolation rules in a bid to ease the “pingdemic”.
Shoppers across the country have been reporting empty shelves, stripped of fruit and veg, bottled water, ice cream and even beer.
Supermarket shelves have been ravaged by supply chain shortagesCredit: Bav Media
The impacts have been widespread hitting all the major supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, Iceland and Lidl.
Last night, ministers published a limited list of sectors whose double-jabbed workers are eligible to avoid isolation if they undergo daily testing.
Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News that “up to 500” distribution centres and food supply chain hubs have been identified where workers could be part of the scheme.
But he confirmed that the measures will not be extended to shop floor workers, leading food bosses to call the plan “worse than useless”.
Richard Walker, managing director at Iceland, said: “We’re encouraged to hear that supermarket depot workers and food manufacturers will be exempt from Government rules, but deeply disappointed to see supermarket store workers omitted from the list.”
Industry leaders also complained that there is still significant confusion over whether they will be contacted over exemptions, which workers will be eligible and whether they should apply directly.
Richard Harrow, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation said: “Yet again Government does not understand how connected the food supply chain is. Only opening part is unlikely to solve the overall issue.
“Plus, who is in and who is out, who decides and how do they decide? Confusion continues to pervade… This is worse than useless.”
Shoppers warned not to panic buy amid Pingdemic
SHOPPERS may see less choice at supermarkets but bosses are urging people not to panic buy
Increasing numbers of workers are being “pinged” by the NHS Covid app creating staff shortages in supermarkets and factories producing food.
There’s also a shortage of lorry drivers and fruit and veg pickers which has threatened supplies.
Iceland boss Richard Walker urged shoppers not to panic buy, saying: “There is certainly no problem with supply of stock.
“Panic-buying is only an option for those who can afford it and it often means that others go without.”
Tesco confirmed that it had plenty of food and deliveries arriving across the UK every day.
Lidl said that the situation was “becoming increasingly difficult” with more staff being told to self-isolate by the Covid app.
“Whilst this is starting to have an impact on our operations, our teams are working hard to minimise any disruption to customers,” a spokesperson said.
Sainsbury said that it is working hard to ensure customers can find what they need and there was no risk of running out of food.
A dairy company executive told the Press Association that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plans will not go far enough.
He said: “We have thousands of workers. The idea of picking a handful of ‘critical workers’ at each huge supplier feels like nonsense.
“We cannot pick a few workers who can keep products going to supermarkets if shortages keep arising – that isn’t how it works.”
The mounting criticism came as data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows Covid-19 cases continued to rise, with around one in 75 people in England infected.
The estimate of 741,700 people testing positive in the week to July 17 is the highest since January this year.
More than 600,000 people in England and Wales have been told to quarantine in the week to July 14, despite research suggesting one in four have deleted the app.
The Government has said that daily testing for workplaces was being extended to frontline emergency services and some transport workers, with an extra 200 testing sites expected.
The Local Government Association said directors of public health were already being overwhelmed with queries from employers who believe their staff should be exempt.
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One industry not to feature in the exemptions list was hospitality. UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “We now face a summer of venue closures and reduced service, when we should be at a seasonal peak. The sector will do all it can to provide great service, but it will be with one hand tied behind our back.
The British Medical Association has said the problem is not the “excessive pinging” of the NHS Covid-19 app but that the Government’s coronavirus strategy has caused “rocketing case numbers”.
Its council chairman, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said isolation numbers are the “direct result of lack of effective measures by Government that is allowing the virus to let rip throughout the nation”.
Shops, pubs and restaurants including Greggs, Toby Carvery and Harvester CLOSE venues due to pingdemic staff shortages.
What is the pingdemic and why has the NHS Covid app forced so many to self-isolate?
Businesses must apply for staff to be exempt from Pingdemic self-isolation rules with 10,000 workers expected to qualify.