Food production workers exempt from 'pingdemic' quarantine but port workers not ​

Fri 23 Jul 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

The government has published a list of 16 sectors whose fully-vaccinated workers may be exempt from isolation if ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid-tracing app to quarantine after coming into close contact with a positive Covid case.

Nearly 620,000 people were pinged by the app last week, causing food shortages in supermarkets.

The exempted sectors include supply chain workers in food production, energy, civil nuclear, digital infrastructure, waste, water, veterinary medicines, essential chemicals, essential transport, medicines and medical devices.

Supermarket depot workers and food suppliers will no longer have to self-isolate for 10 days if they come into contact with a positive case and instead will be able to take daily tests.

Exemption timetable

This exemption process is intended to run until 16 August 2021 – the date scheduled for lifting quarantine for double-vaccinated people that is at risk of being delayed.

The move comes as supermarket shelves began to empty this week when thousands of suppliers and workers were told to isolate for ten days after contact with a Covid case.

Supply chain not fully covered

Aside from food production and supply workers, other roles in the supply chain were not included in the exemption list.

Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group, told The Times: “Employers now need to go through a laborious process of producing, agreeing and receiving official letters of approval from the government of named individuals.

“However, it seems that thousands of supermarket staff get waved through without any such process. We simply don’t understand why it’s one rule for one sector and another for the critical pinch points in the economy.”

Defending decision

George Eustice, the environment secretary, this morning defended the government’s decision to limit the lifting of self-isolation requirements to food supply workers, saying ministers were monitoring the number of hospital admissions.

Eustice told Sky News: “The reason we’ve made a special exception for food is for very obvious reasons — we need to make sure that we maintain our food supply.”

‘More detail coming’

Businesses have been told by government that more detail will be published on Monday 26 July, a decision that Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processing Association, described as “disappointing”.

He told The Times: "We’re delighted that the government has recognised there was a problem bordering on a crisis and something needed to be done but there needs to be recognition this is a 24/7 supply chain, and you can’t wait to Monday to understand who’s going to get this and how it’s going to work.

"I’ve been inundated with questions from members about how it’s going to work that I just can’t answer at the moment.”