'Pingdemic' crisis impacting supply chains as government looks to issue job roles exemption

Thu 22 Jul 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

Supermarkets and the food industry are waiting to hear today whether new government guidance will allow some self-isolating staff to continue working as trade supply chains are beset by staff shortages.

The Guardian reports that double vaccinated staff could be added to a list of those exempt from self-isolation as supermarkets and social media report food shortages.

The supply of food into supermarkets is being tested by the ongoing ‘pingdemic’ of more than 600,000 workers, including delivery staff, forced to isolate by the NHS Test & Trace app.

The Unite union has warned government that factories are on “the verge of shutting” with hundreds of staff self-isolating, reported the Independent.

Narrow list today

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Radio 4 today that a “narrow” list released today could include those who “might be exempt”.

However, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed to the House of Commons this morning that fully vaccinated people will have to wait until 16 August before they do not need to isolate after Covid contact, reports the BBC.

One million at home

Up to a million people are thought to be self-isolating, reports the Times, with Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Iceland all confirming some products were unavailable due to supply issues.

Retailers are being hit by a double whammy of staff shortages, which has forced some stores to limit their hours, and the ongoing driver shortage which is affecting their deliveries.

MPs and industry leaders have urged the government to exempt supermarket staff, lorry drivers and other frontline workers from automatic self-isolation if they are a contact of someone with Covid, reports the Telegraph.

Confusing messages

Andrew Opie, the director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “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.”

British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) chief executive Nick Allen criticised “confusing messages” from the government, reports the Standard.

“There’s an air of despondency creeping through the industry really. Until now we’ve managed to keep the food supply chain running but there’s a sense that we’re starting to fail on that front,” he said.

'Don’t panic'

Iceland managing director Richard Walker told the BBC that shoppers need not panic buy. Around 1,000 of Iceland staff – about 4% of the workforce – are self-isolating, although only 27% of them have tested positive for Covid.

“That could get a lot worse a lot quicker unless the track and trace system is sorted out,” he said.

The company is looking to draft in 2,000 temporary staff to help.

Factory shut-downs

According to Unite, some factories are struggling to operate with one major engine supplier reportedly facing delays so severe that work may be permanently moved to China.

The union said the government should not wait until 16 August to allow fully vaccinated adults to avoid self-isolation.