Food industry at crisis point and shortages possible in pingdemic

Fury as ministers dash to exempt 10,000 critical workers from self-isolation after FINALLY waking up to threat ‘pingdemic’ could collapse supply chains and spark ‘biggest food shortages since the war’ – but hospitality staff will NOT be let off rules

  • Britain’s ‘Chicken King’ warns of worst food shortages for 75 years because of Covid, ‘pingdemic’ and Brexit 
  • Updated guidance said ‘limited number of named workers’ could leave self-isolation ‘under specific controls
  • Officials will ‘agree roles and workplaces likely to meet criteria’ for self-isolation exemption ‘on a daily basis’ 
  • New process to allow critical workers to carry on working even if pinged only intended to run until August 16 
  • Record 1.3m Covid self-isolation alerts were sent out across England last week, according to NHS statistics 

Ministers today insisted 10,000 critical workers will be exempted from self-isolation rules almost immediately after finally waking up to warnings the ‘pingdemic’ could collapse food supply chains.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said staff at around 500 sites including supermarket depots will no longer need to quarantine if they come into contact with a positive Covid case.

He stressed that firms will not need to apply to be covered by the ‘big’ change, amid confusion over the emergency measures being taken by ministers to stop supply chains collapsing. 

Admitting that the government needed to think again after businesses raised the alarm over the sheer scale of absences, he said: ‘We will never take risks with our food supply.’ The Cabinet minister said the military was ‘always on standby’, but there were currently no plans to call on them.  

However, Mr Eustice risked the wrath of other sectors that are being hammered by the escalating problems as he made clear there is no prospect of hospitality staff getting the same treatment. And he declined to give a categorical commitment that fully vaccinated people will be let off isolation rules from August 16 as planned.   

The comments came as owners of some of the country’s largest food producers including the UK’s ‘Chicken King’ revealed they are at ‘crisis point’ – with a lack of poultry and milk on supermarket shelves and warnings of the ‘most serious food shortages that this country has seen in over 75 years’.

Ranjit Singh Boparan, of the 2 Sisters Food Group, said the pingdemic was also ‘masking’ other issues, including Brexit-related problems and Covid-related supply, staffing and delivery woes as the Government exempted 10,000 critical workers from self-isolation if pinged. 

Supermarkets have urged customers not to panic buy as a wide-range of products including meat, cheese, water and wine were missing from stores experiencing an epidemic of empty shelves.

Mr Boparan – known as the Chicken King because of 2 Sisters’ large scale involvement in the poultry trade – warned the Government needed to act now or face disaster.

The Government has introduced emergency measures which it says will protect food supplies in face of the so-called pingdemic, allowing thousands of workers to avoid the need to self-isolate if identified as a contact of a coronavirus case.

But Mr Boparan said: ‘No-one could possibly have predicted that this toxic cocktail would come together at this time. It started with the pandemic – and in the last week or so with pingdemic, but since May this year the operating environment has deteriorated so profoundly I can see no other outcome than major food shortages in the UK.

‘Supply of chicken and turkey is under threat. Our retail partners and the wider supply chain have worked together closer than ever before to ensure we retain food supply and this is of huge credit to everyone. But we are at crisis point.’

Phil Langslow, trading director at Cheshire-based county milk products: ‘We had a long standing lorry driver shortage that’s been exacerbated by covid. Service providers have said they cannot cope. 

‘Roughly half of deliveries expected to be done are not and we’re scrambling to get this done. It renders some business unviable. We were already struggling on the back of Brexit. It meant a lot of farmers kept within the confines of the UK. 

‘There’s nothing more important than food. The centre of government policy should be the provision of safe affordable food. We’ve taken a fairly strict view that if you don’t feel well don’t come to work. What has been affected is distribution. If you cannot get food to the market you’ve got a problem.’ 

Mr Eustice told Sky News: ‘We’ve identified close to 500 key sites, that includes around 170 supermarket depots, and then another couple of hundred key manufacturers like our bread manufacturers, dairy companies and so on.

‘All of the people working in those key strategic sites, distribution depots and those manufacturing facilities will be able to use this scheme, and probably well over 10,000 people.’


‘Chicken King’ Ranjit Singh Boparan has raised concerns about the pingdemic and shmeat shortages  with Phil Langslow, trading director at Cheshire-based county milk products: ‘We had a long standing lorry driver shortage that’s been exacerbated by covid. Service providers have said they cannot cope’

Tesco in Skegness, Lincolnshire, some freezer shelves are empty due to the ‘pingdemic’ as industry leaders demanded immediate action

This MailOnline reader sent in this photograph of the empty milk aisle of his local Sainsbury’s in Richmond, south-west London

A shopper walks past an empty fridge in a supermarket in Nine Elms, south London

Empty shelves in Adsa, Cardiff as more and more supermarket staff and delivery drives are forced to self isolate

National food chains yesterday joined the growing number of employers dragged into the pingdemic crisis.

Pret a Manger, Nando’s, Greggs and McDonald’s are all suffering extra staffing problems caused by the NHS self-isolation policies.

Sandwich chain Pret has shut 17 outlets, Greggs is shuffling staff between some sites to keep them open and Nando’s has closed at least one restaurant.

McDonald’s is cutting hours and services across large parts of the country, such as removing eat in and takeaways in favour of drive-thru only.

The problem has been exacerbated by a wider staffing crisis across the hospitality sector which is causing problems for national pub chains and the likes of Burger King and KFC.

All are struggling to fill rotas as thousands of workers have been ordered to self-isolate for up to ten days after being pinged by the NHS Covid app or contacted by the Test and Trace service. 

 

Mr Boparan, who featured on the Sunday Times Rich List in 2020 along with wife Baljinder with a fortune of £593 million, added labour was a concern, reporting 15% shortages among its 16,000-strong workforce with Brexit reducing available staff in the sector.

He said: ‘The critical labour issue alone means we walk a tightrope every week at the moment.

‘We’re just about coping, but I can see if no support is forthcoming – and urgently – from Government, then shelves will be empty, food waste will rocket simply because it cannot be processed, or delivered, and the shortages we saw last year will be peanuts in comparison to what could come.’

Adding that feed inflation and adapting to the Covid reality also pose a challenge, he added: ‘These are unique, era-defining challenges which we started to tackle head on last year.

‘But they’ve all come to a head in the past 12 weeks. Clearly these have brought continued and intensive pressure on our business, just like they have elsewhere.’

A food and drink industry chief has welcomed the Government’s announcement of exemptions from NHS app isolation requirements for food supply chain workers. 

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, told Times Radio: ‘I think it’s important because the interruptions in supply and the increasing erosion of choice and concerns that it might get worse were beginning to grow quite fast.

‘I must confess I’m still a little bit mystified as to why the Government doesn’t want to bring [the end of the self-isolation requirement on August 16] forward and I think it would be useful to know on exactly which grounds the hiatus is justified.’

The Government has announced it will allow exemptions to the self-isolation requirement of the NHS Test and Trace app’s contact tracing for some staff members in the UK’s food supply chain.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said it was easier to manage staff shortages on a store level when asked why supermarket staff were not included in exemptions.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘Well, the main reason is that would be a really significant undertaking, as you’re talking then thousands of different shops, and many more people, and we still want to maintain the test, trace and isolate system.

‘We know that the most important thing is to ensure that those main arteries in our food supply chain keep working, that the lorries keep going from depots to get goods to store and that the food manufacturers can continue to manufacture the goods to get it to the depots.

‘When you get to store level, of course, yes, there will be some difficulties, they will have staff shortages. But it is easier to manage at that level.’

Companies and organisations representing thousands of businesses employing millions are demanding an end to the quarantine of the healthy. They speak for hospitality, retail, food supplies, manufacturing and transport – the foundations of the economy. 

The Government has announced 16 sectors from transport to police and food suppliers where double-vaccinated key staff will not have to isolate if pinged – but the scheme is only expected to help 10,000 people, despite a record 1.3million being sent alerts last week. 

Updated guidance said ‘in the small number of situations where the self-isolation of close contacts would result in serious disruption to critical services, a limited number of named workers may be able to leave self-isolation under specific controls for the purpose of undertaking critical work only’.

The policy only applies to named workers if their employer has received a letter from the relevant government department. ‘This is not a blanket exemption for all workers in a sector,’ the guidance said.

Only 10,000 people are expected to qualify for the scheme, reported The Times – a drop in the ocean compared to the 2.3million people, including children sent home from school, who were told to isolate last week and the 1.3million self-isolation alerts sent out across England over the seven-day period.

Ministers have also announced that priority testing sites will be set up at workplaces that supply food – 500 of which are set to be operational within the next week. 

The new process to allow critical workers to carry on with their jobs even if identified as a contact of a coronavirus case is intended to run until August 16, when a wider relaxation for fully vaccinated contacts is set to take effect. 

The Government, however, tonight faced mounting calls to immediately end quarantine for everyone who has had both doses of the vaccine. 

It comes as a study from Oxford University suggests daily testing of Covid contacts in schools drastically reduces staff and pupil absences without increasing infections. 

The policy proved just as effective at preventing outbreaks as sending home an entire ‘bubble’ for ten days when someone tested positive. Fewer than one close contact in 50 was infected under either regime, researchers say.

Earlier on Thursday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng had revealed the Government’s plan to U-turn and rush out a list of industries allowed to ignore the alerts — less than 48 hours after Downing Street insisted there would not be one. 

Blue bars show the number of ‘pings’ sent by the NHS app each week; red bars show the number of people contacted by Test and Trace call handlers; and yellow bars show the number of people who tested positive for Covid

In total, when children sent home to isolate from school are included, there were up to 2.3million people told to quarantine last week – or 3 per cent of the entire population

Data shows 600,000 alerts were sent by the NHS app in the week ending July 14, a 17 per cent rise increase on the previous seven days and another record high. The red line show the cumulative number of tracing alerts sent throughout the pandemic, while the blue bars represent the number each week

Infections were rising in England by about 67 per cent on June 30, for example, and at the same time the number of alerts sent to phones rose by 63 per cent. Even earlier this month ‘pings’ were rising in line with cases – infections rose by 48 per cent on July 7 while alerts jumped by 46 per cent. But by July 14, cases across England were rising at twice the rate of alerts – with a 34 per cent increase in infections compared to the 17 per cent rise in pings that reached phones

A long run of empty shelves in Lidl, Saltash, Cornwall as the ‘pingdemic’ grips the country forcing thousands of supermarket workers and lorry drivers into quarantine. The ‘Middle of Lidl’ section is usually piled high with bargains

Empty shelves and signs on the soft drinks aisle of a Sainsbury’s store in Blackheath, Rowley Regis. Bosses asked customers to ‘bear with us’ blaming ‘high demand’

Employees refill the fresh vegetable display at a Morrisons supermarket in 2015, contrasting to the recent pictures of empty shelves. Supermarkets had urged Britons not to panic buy toilet roll, pasta, bottled water and wine (file photo)

Covid cases are set to start rising exponentially again within DAYS, warn experts after hopes were raised by first drop in two months 

The fall in Covid case numbers yesterday may just be temporary dip ahead of a return to exponential growth, a health expert has warned.

Britain’s daily infection numbers are down for the first time in two months, with the Department of Health recording 39,906 positive tests – a 17.8 per cent drop on the number last Thursday.

The development has been seen as the first glimmer of hope of a return to normalcy since the third wave took off.

But Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that while the decline was ‘positive’, the effects of Freedom Day on July 19 will not yet be appearing in the data yet. He warned it was possible infections could begin growing ‘exponentially’ again in the coming weeks.

‘I would caution that this may just be a temporary slowing in reports before we start to see a return to exponential growth towards the end of next week as a result of the ending of restrictions last week,’ he said. 

Under the pingdemic plan, employers struggling because of the number of staff off work will be able to apply for an exemption so their teams can undergo daily tests instead of having to stay at home if they are pinged.

A record 1.3million Covid self-isolation alerts were sent out across England last week, according to official NHS statistics, with supermarkets urging Britons not to panic buy toilet roll, pasta, bottled water and wine with shelves empty across the country and ministers facing calls to bring in the Army to shore up the supply of food. 

Officials will ‘agree the roles and workplaces that are likely to meet the criteria’ for the self-isolation exemption ‘on a daily basis’.

‘Where a specific case meets the criteria, the employer will receive a letter from the relevant department setting out the named critical workers designated and telling them what measures they and those workers need to follow,’ the guidance said.

The guidance lists 16 sectors: energy, civil nuclear, digital infrastructure, food production and supply, waste, water, veterinary medicines, essential chemicals, essential transport, medicines, medical devices, clinical consumable supplies, emergency services, border control, essential defence and local government. 

But it adds that ‘in some exceptional cases’ there may be critical roles in other sectors which could be agreed on a case-by-case basis. 

Separate arrangements are in place for frontline health and care staff. 

Where employers believe the self-isolation of certain key employees as contacts would result in serious disruption to critical services, they have been asked to contact the relevant Government department. 

Individuals identified as contacts should only attend work in ‘critical elements of national infrastructure’ and if their absence ‘would be likely to lead to the loss or compromise of this infrastructure’ resulting in a ‘major detrimental impact’ on the delivery of essential services or a significant impact on national security. 

The guidance stressed the process ‘will not cover all or in most cases even the majority of workers in critical sectors’, suggesting that while people in crucial railway signalling roles could be covered by the exemption, it was less likely to be applied to individual drivers.   

Empty shelves in Asda as Britain was caught in a perfect storm of staff shortages and a lack of lorry drivers

Sainsbury’s delicatessen and fishmonger empty and closed up at Sainsbury’s in Kinross, Perthshire

The empty bottled water shelves in Tesco in Cambridge on Thursday morning due to the ‘pingdemic’

Empty pasta shelves in the Lidl in Durham, this afternoon, as food supply chains struggled because of a lack of staff

Covid cases are set to start rising exponentially again within DAYS, warn experts

The hopeful fall in Covid case numbers seen today may just be temporary dip ahead of a return to exponential growth, a health expert has warned.

Britain’s daily infection numbers are down for the first time in two months, with the Department of Health recording 39,906 positive tests – a 17.8 per cent drop on the number last Thursday.

The development has been seen as the first glimmer of hope of a return to normalcy since the third wave took off.

But Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that while the decline was ‘positive’, the effects of Freedom Day on July 19 will not yet be appearing in the data yet. He warned it was possible infections could begin growing ‘exponentially’ again in the coming weeks. 

Referring to today’s figures he said: ‘They represent a 18% drop. Also the week-on-week percentage increase in cases has fallen from a peak of 43% last Sunday to just 24% today.

‘But it is still too early to see any impact of the relaxations of Monday 19 and some of the reduction in cases will be because of many children no longer being tested as regularly now schools are closed.

‘I would caution that this may just be a temporary slowing in reports before we start to see a return to exponential growth towards the end of next week as a result of the ending of restrictions last week,’ he said. 

Prof Hunter said we will not know for certain until August 9 – three weeks after so-called ‘freedom day’.

The data also showed that a further 84 people had died within 28 days of testing positive as of Thursday, up from 73 on Wednesday, and an increase of a third on last week.

The average number of people dying from the virus each day now stands at 55, which is double the figure earlier this month but still 20 times fewer than at the peak of the second wave.

 

Meanwhile, ministers have taken the first steps towards tackling the pingdemic crisis by setting up testing centres so deliveries can be maintained to supermarkets.  

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: ‘Food businesses across the country have been the hidden heroes of the pandemic. We are working closely with industry to allow staff to go about their essential work safely with daily testing. 

‘The last 18 months have demonstrated that we have a highly resilient food supply chain. There are sufficient food supplies in the system and people can and should shop as normal.’ 

But business leaders say the proposal won’t deal fully with the growing crisis, as Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng yesterday signalled the August 16 date could even be delayed. 

New estimates suggest 2.1 million people could be forced into up to ten days of self-isolation by next week after being pinged by the app or contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

The vast majority have already been double-jabbed against the virus and will test negative for any infection.

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: ‘Hospitality is facing significant staffing challenges just as restrictions ease after 16 months, with as many as a fifth of staff in the sector isolating at any one time.

‘We urge the Government to move faster on this issue to reduce business disruption and prevent the summer being cancelled for our sector.’

Julian Metcalfe, founder of Itsu and Pret a Manger, said: ‘It’s almost impossible for anyone in business to navigate this chaos and confusion.’

Wetherspoons founder Tim Martin added: ‘The vaccination programme has been a fantastic success. We now need pragmatic solutions, not indiscriminate pings from a failed IT system, which are rapidly driving the country into the rocks.’

And Clive Watson, of the City Pub Group, said: ‘It’s one thing pubs not being able to open, but this is also affecting the haulage industry and supermarkets. If shops start running out of food, we’re all in the proverbial.’

It comes after shoppers shared images of empty shelves while supermarkets warned of distribution issues amid staff shortages due to people quarantining in what is being dubbed the ‘pingdemic’.  

Mr Kwarteng admitted on Thursday that he was ‘concerned’ about food supply issues but urged shoppers not to ‘panic buy’ and said he ‘can’t guarantee’ the self-isolation crisis won’t continue beyond August 16 — when quarantine rules are due to be dropped for the fully-vaccinated. 

He earlier told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We are going to announce a list of exempt workers’, but warned: ‘The list will be quite narrow’ and he would not ‘pre-empt’ the list when asked if the food industry would be on it. 

It is similarly bare at the Lidl store in Wolverton, Milton Keynes, this morning


There was also a shortage of wine at the Lidl supermarket in Derby today (left) and empty shelves at Morrisons in BelleVale, Liverpool (right). Deliveries to supermarkets and other businesses across the UK are facing a growing shortage of drivers with many self-isolating after being pinged by the NHS COVID app

Freezers empty at Sainsbury’s in Craigleith, Edinburgh, overnight as the ‘pingdemic’ decimated Britain’s retailers

Empty bread shelves in Asda in Cambridge due to the ‘pingdemic’ and a shortage of lorry drivers.

Mr Kwarteng added: ‘I don’t think it’s a question of applying for this. We’re going to be publishing guidance today on who might be exempt. We’re looking at different sectors and we will be publishing today the sectors that will be affected.’ 

No 10 said it was aware of the ‘impact’ self-isolation rules were having on some industries but stressed that the food supply chain was ‘resilient’.

As retailers begged for staff and delivery drivers to be made exempt from self-isolating when ‘pinged’, Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Commons defence committee, said today: ‘The urgency of staff shortages now impacting on supermarkets and by extension national food distribution warrants a Cobra meeting today for which the deployment of the Army to assist in HGV driver shortfall should be a last resort option considered’. 

The release of a list of exempt industries marks a U-turn by the Government, who previously said it would be done on a ‘case by case’ basis. The PM’s official spokesman said on Tuesday: ‘We’re not going to be producing a list covering individual sectors, these business-critical areas will be able to apply for exemptions to their host departments.’ 

The Business Secretary also contradicted his junior business minister Paul Scully, who earlier this week said it was a decision for individuals and employers whether they should isolate after a ‘ping’ from the NHS Covid-19 app. 

Forcing children to isolate is ‘needless’ and daily testing of Covid contacts in schools drastically reduces staff and pupil absences without increasing infections, Oxford University study says

By Shaun Wooller Health Correspondent for the Daily Mail

Daily testing of Covid contacts in schools drastically reduces staff and pupil absences without increasing infections, a study suggests.

The policy proved just as effective at preventing outbreaks as sending home an entire ‘bubble’ for ten days when someone tested positive.

Fewer than one close contact in 50 was infected under either regime, researchers from Oxford University say.

But daily testing was significantly less disruptive to children’s education and could reduce days lost to self-isolation by 39 per cent, the scientists said. NHS Test and Trace said the study was ‘trailblazing’ for showing daily testing can safely keep pupils in class.

It comes after official figures showed a record 1.05million children were absent from school for Covid-related reasons last week.

The policy proved just as effective at preventing outbreaks as sending home an entire ‘bubble’ for ten days when someone tested positive (file photo)

The researchers analysed data on 201 secondary schools and colleges in England. From April to June, half of schools sent all contacts home for ten days and half allowed them to continue attending if they had a negative rapid test each day.

Dr David Eyre, who worked on the study, said: ‘Daily testing was able to identify most of the small number that do [test positive], which allowed them to safely isolate at home, while allowing the large majority of other students and staff to remain in school.’

Close contacts also took a PCR test on day two and seven following contact.

Fewer than one close contact in 50 was infected under either regime, researchers from Oxford University say (file photo)

Just 1.5 per cent of contacts in the ‘daily testing’ schools had a positive PCR compared with 1.6 per cent of the other group. It means more than 98 per cent of contacts did not get Covid in isolation and suggests daily contact testing may slightly reduce transmission.

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for NHS Test and Trace, called the findings ‘a major breakthrough’. The study, backed by the Department of Health and Department for Education, is not yet peer reviewed.

Fears of continued disruption prompted the Government to keep its free online school open. The Oak National Academy will teach pupils at home for two more terms.

Top firms demand an end to ping peril: Businesses such as Heathrow, Iceland, Wetherspoon and Pret a Manger join calls to stop double-jabbed isolating 

By Sean Poulter, David Churchill and Lucy White for the Daily Mail 

Business leaders today join the Mail’s rallying cry to Boris Johnson to save the UK from the paralysing effects of the pingdemic.

Companies and organisations representing thousands of businesses employing millions are demanding an end to the quarantine of the healthy.

They speak for hospitality, retail, food supplies, manufacturing and transport – the foundations of the economy.

The business leaders are getting behind the Mail’s letter to the Prime Minister, asking him urgently to bring forward plans to alter the rules on August 16, so those who are double-jabbed are exempt from quarantining as long as they take regular tests. 

Business leaders today join the Mail’s rallying cry to Boris Johnson to save the UK from the paralysing effects of the pingdemic

FIRMS’ RALLYING CRY

‘Dear Prime Minister,

We believe the country’s current approach to self-isolation is closing down the economy rather than opening it up, and causing huge damage. Because of the ‘pingdemic’, businesses are at risk of grinding to a halt.

We believe people who have been double-vaccinated should be able to avoid having to self-isolate so they can carry on working. They would instead have regular tests.

The Government is already proposing this from August 16. We are simply asking them to bring forward the start date, with immediate effect.’

Signatories to the Mail’s campaign:

  • Association of Convenience Stores
  • British Beer & Pub Association
  • Federation of Wholesale Distributors
  • Tim Alderslade, CEO, Airlines UK
  • Steven Alton, chief executive, British Institute of Innkeeping
  • Richard Ballantyne, chief executive, British Ports Association
  • Roger Barker, policy director, Institute of Directors
  • Shane Brennan, chief executive, Cold Chain Federation
  • Charlie Cornish, chief executive, Manchester Airports Group
  • Karen Dee, chief executive, Airport Operators Association
  • Bernard Donoghue, director, Association of Leading Visitor Attractions
  • Andrew Flintham, managing director, Tui UK
  • Des Gunewardena, chairman and chief executive, D & D London
  • Jonathan Hinkles, chief executive, Loganair
  • John Holland-Kaye, chief executive, Heathrow Airport
  • Johan Lundgren, CEO, easyJet
  • Nick Mackenzie, chief executive, Greene King
  • Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy, Road Haulage Association
  • Tim Martin, founder and chairman, Wetherspoon
  • Julian Metcalfe, CEO of Itsu and founder of Pret a Manger
  • Charlie Mullins, founder and chief executive, Pimlico Plumbers
  • Kate Nicholls, CEO, UKHospitality
  • Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive, UK Chamber of Shipping
  • Sir Malcolm Walker, founder, Iceland
  • Richard Walker, managing director, Iceland
  • Clive Watson, executive chairman, City Pub Group
  • David Wells, chief executive, Logistics UK

Ministers last night announced a move to keep the nation fed by setting up testing sites at 500 factories, warehouses and distribution centres so critical workers no longer need to isolate if they are pinged by the NHS Covid app.

But business leaders say the proposal won’t deal fully with the growing crisis, as Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng yesterday signalled the August 16 date could even be delayed.

New estimates suggest 2.1 million people could be forced into up to ten days of self-isolation by next week after being pinged by the app or contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

The vast majority have already been double-jabbed against the virus and will test negative for any infection.

This exodus of workers means there are gaps on supermarket shelves, particularly fresh produce, as an existing shortage of delivery drivers has been exacerbated by the impact of the app.

Food processors, car plants and other manufacturers are cutting production and shifts, threatening to paralyse the economy. Postal services are failing in many areas, while household bins are going uncollected, leaving rubbish to bake, creating a stink across our streets.

Police forces are taking longer to respond to 999 calls, while train services are suffering as staff are required to quarantine. There are also some concerns for petrol supplies.Business leaders say it is bizarre to require healthy people who have been double-jabbed and tested negative to quarantine if identified as a Covid contact by the app or Test and Trace.

Signatories to the Mail’s letter include UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls, who said: ‘Hospitality is facing significant staffing challenges just as restrictions ease after 16 months, with as many as a fifth of staff in the sector isolating at any one time.

‘We urge the Government to move faster on this issue to reduce business disruption and prevent the summer being cancelled for our sector.’

There are increasing fears the app is losing public support, with one estimate suggesting usage is declining by 15 per cent a week.

Julian Metcalfe, founder of Itsu and Pret a Manger, said: ‘It’s almost impossible for anyone in business to navigate this chaos and confusion.

‘I think the Mail’s campaign is a great idea: if you’re double-jabbed, let people use their common sense and make their own decisions.’

Wetherspoons founder Tim Martin said: ‘The vaccination programme has been a fantastic success. We now need pragmatic solutions, not indiscriminate pings from a failed IT system, which are rapidly driving the country into the rocks.’

Clive Watson, of the City Pub Group, said: ‘It’s one thing pubs not being able to open, but this is also affecting the haulage industry and supermarkets. If shops start running out of food, we’re all in the proverbial.’

Signatories from the transport sector include Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, and John Holland-Kaye, the boss of Heathrow. 

Ministers last night announced a move to keep the nation fed by setting up testing sites at 500 factories, warehouses and distribution centres so critical workers no longer need to isolate if they are pinged by the NHS Covid app

Rod McKenzie, of the Road Haulage Association, said: ‘The RHA strongly supports the lifting of the requirement for fully vaccinated lorry drivers to self-isolate if pinged. 

‘The UK is facing a critical shortage of lorry drivers and the fact that many fit and healthy drivers are required to isolate is unfair and illogical.’

Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping, said: ‘The pingdemic has caused issues for lifeline ferry services, offshore energy workers and others providing vital services.

‘Seafarers are key workers and it is paramount those that are double-vaccinated can continue doing their essential work without disruption.’

Dr Roger Barker, of the Institute of Directors, said: ‘The Government’s handling of the issue of self-isolation is in a complete mess.

‘The month-long disconnect between the lifting of restrictions and the ending of self-isolation is exacerbating existing staff shortages.’

 

 

In a speech last month, Confederation of British Industry president Karan Bilimoria said the UK’s Shortage Occupation List ought to be updated ‘to help make sure the UK is open for business, and to get our economic recovery on the right track’.

He said: ‘Last year – in September 2020 – the Migration Advisory Committee recommended that we add certain roles to that list.

‘Butchers, bricklayers, and welders for example. Today, almost a year on, we worry those are exactly the same sectors facing shortages now.

‘Businesses would also welcome a commitment to review the list annually, to keep it responsive to the ebb and flow of skill demands across the whole of the UK’s economy.

‘And where there are clear, evidenced labour shortages, businesses should be able to hire from overseas.’

 

Supermarkets have urged customers not to panic buy amid reports of empty shelves in shops across the country.

The UK’s biggest supermarkets have described any shortages as ‘patchy’ across stores and said there was no need for customers to stock up.

They said any gaps on shelves are temporary as they await deliveries.

Shortages of some products have been sparked by a lack of HGV drivers and an increase in staff self-isolating.

There is now a shortfall of 100,000 drivers in the UK, according to the Road Haulage Association, with many having returned to the European Union.

The shortage has got worse as many drivers are also self-isolating because of the ‘pingdemic’ linked to the NHS app.

Many stores have a shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables, beer and kitchen roll but bosses stressed panic buying will create a problem that does not exist.

Iceland managing director Richard Walker said staff absence rates are double the usual number, with the figure rising 50 per cent ‘week on week’.

He told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We’ve now got over 1,000 staff off who have been pinged. That’s double the normal rates, and it’s rising at 50 per cent week on week. Our big concern is that we’ve kept all of our shops open throughout the pandemic, but now we have had to close one or two shops and reduce hours in others.

‘But that could get a lot worse a lot quicker unless the country’s system is sorted out.’

A Co-op spokesman said: ‘We are sorry that we are running low on some products but we are working closely with our suppliers to get re- stocked quickly.’

A Sainsbury’s spokesman said: ‘We are working hard to ensure customers can find what they need. While we might not always have the exact product a customer is looking for in every store, large quantities of products are being delivered to stores daily.’

Tesco confirmed that it had plenty of food and deliveries arriving across the UK every day.

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson said there is no need for the public to stockpile groceries.

She said: ‘There’s plenty of food in the country. What we’re seeing is pockets of issues in specific places where case numbers are particularly high. The most important thing is that the Government acts now before the situation does get more serious, so that we don’t see more empty shelves in more places.’

She warned of a ‘perfect storm’ of issues, including labour shortages ahead of the opening up of the economy and rising virus case numbers, with ‘more and more people asked to self-isolate’.

Yesterday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said a ‘very narrow’ list of sectors whose workers will be exempt from isolation rules will be published.

Source: Read Full Article