Food industry leaders are warning that as the “pingdemic” sends thousands of workers into self-isolation, supermarket supply chains are “starting to fail”
In some areas shop shelves were empty of basic supplies and petrol stations ran out of fuel as the NHS Test and Trace app threatened to bring parts of the economy to a standstill.
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MSN reports: MPs and industry leaders urged the Government to ease the growing crisis by including supermarket staff, lorry drivers and other frontline workers on a list of those exempted from automatic self-isolation when ‘pinged’ by the app as a contact of someone with Covid.
The Government has yet to publish guidance on which industries would benefit from any exemption scheme. A list was expected on Wednesday but no announcement came.
In the Commons, Boris Johnson apologised to affected businesses for the “inconvenience” but urged them to stick by the rules and support workers to stay at home.
It came as the “pingdemic” wreaks growing havoc, with more than half a million people pinged by the app in a single week.
The police and crime commissioner for Cleveland warned the public to expect longer response times to calls, while Royal Mail announced delays to deliveries in 10 parts of England after an increase in absences caused by self-isolating staff.
Supermarket leaders said an existing national shortage of lorry drivers had been brought to near-crisis point by the numbers sent into self-isolation by the app.
Shelves were empty of supplies including bread, meat, fruit and vegetables in parts of Bristol, Cambridge and Southampton.
Tesco said it had run out of bottled water in its warehouses as the country swelters in a heatwave, while the Co-op said supplies in “a large majority” of its stores had been disrupted “due to the impact of Covid/isolation of colleagues”.
A spokesman said: “This is a short-term but significant impact and has impacted our ability to supply stores. These issues are impacting a large majority of Co-op stores.”
Iceland announced plans to draft in 2,000 temporary employees to keep stores open.
Nick Allen, the chief executive of the Meat Processors Association, warned that the supply chain was at risk of collapse, saying some of his members had lost up to 10 per cent of their workforce to self-isolation.
“There’s an air of despondency creeping through the industry really,” Mr Allen told the BBC. “Until now we’ve managed to
keep the food supply chain running, but there’s a sense of we’re starting to fail on that front.”
Asked whether production lines were stalling, he said: “They are. It’s happening already. We’re starting to see that at retail level and in restaurants – everyone is struggling to get things out.”
MPs and industry leaders called on the Government to include supermarket workers and lorry drivers in an exemption scheme allowing “critical” workers who are pinged to return to work after a PCR test and do daily lateral flow tests rather than self-isolating for 10 days.
Andrew Opie, the director of food and sustainability at industry lobby group the British Retail Consortium, said the Government needed to act swiftly to tackle the problem.
“Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double vaccinated or can show a negative Covid test to ensure there is no disruption to the public’s ability to get food and other goods,” he said.