United Kingdom

Business chiefs warn of food shortages due to 'pingdemic' chaos

Ministers are under pressure to reveal how many of the 2,000 testing sites they have promised for critical workers are now up and running amid a backlash over the Government's handling of the 'pingdemic'. 

The Government last night announced an additional 1,200 workplace daily contact testing sites for key workers like prison staff, waste collectors and defence personnel.

That is on top of the 800 sites pledged last week for the food industry, transport workers and the emergency services. 

However, it remains unclear how many of the facilities are operational after reports yesterday that just 25 of 500 sites for food distribution workers were ready. 

Downing Street was yesterday unable to say how many of the facilities were live. MailOnline contacted the Department of Health this morning for an update but is yet to receive a response. 

Meanwhile, it emerged the beleaguered NHS Test and Trace is helping to set up the sites in the hope they will be ready this week. 

It comes amid mounting concerns over the complexity of the exemption scheme which will see self-isolation rules for staff in certain critical sectors replaced with daily testing so people can continue to go to work.

Business chiefs have labelled the Government's handling of the 'pingdemic' an 'incoherent mess' as they warned there could be food shortages due to staff absences as they wait for testing sites to be set up.    

Ministers today defended their decision not to make hospitality workers exempt from the self-isolation rules. 

Bar, pub and restaurant workers are still subject to the stay-at-home requirement if they are 'pinged' as a close contact of a positive coronavirus case despite warnings that staff absences are hammering already struggling firms. 

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said the Government is having to 'balance' the needs of critical sectors with stopping the spread of the disease. 

He urged people to wait for August 16 which is when the self-isolation requirement for the double-jabbed is due to be ditched.

Business chiefs have warned of food shortages because it will take time for testing sites to be set up. Empty shelves are pictured at a supermarket in Cardiff on July 25

The Government is rolling out testing capability to hundreds of sites to help ensure critical sectors can continue to function


The Government announced that some fully vaccinated staff in some critical sectors would be exempt from having to self-isolate if they are 'pinged'.  

People working in those sectors will be subject to daily Covid-19 testing instead, allowing them to keep working.  

The list of sectors now includes:  

The Government announced the new additions to the exemptions list last night. 

More key workers will be eligible for the testing scheme under the plans, with 1,200 new workplace sites introduced in a bid to avoid disruption to crucial services as cases soar.

They join those working in the food industry, transport workers, Border Force staff, frontline police and fire services, after several sectors warned of staff shortages caused by the self-isolation rules.

The announcement of more testing sites, which brings the total number to 2,000, came after ministers on the Covid operations sub-committee of Cabinet met yesterday. 

The scheme uses lateral flow tests to allow eligible workers who have been pinged by the app or called by NHS Test and Trace to continue working, provided they test negative each day. 

Mr Malthouse defended the decision not to include hospitality workers in the scheme, telling Sky News: 'We are obviously having to balance the risk of contagion, controlling the spread of the disease because it is still out there don't forget, we are still as you say 24,000 cases on yesterday.

'It was having to control that against the need to keep critical sectors of our economy going.

'As you know we have spread this test and release to other critical areas of the country so policing, emergency workers, some in food supply, to try and keep that going.

'And I know that the department of health and business are in constant conversation with business about what they need to keep going.

'We have only got a couple of weeks to go now until the 16th when double jabbed people will be released if you like so we have just got to get through the next two weeks and make sure we control that virus and we can do that safely and cautiously.'

Asked if he was confirming that the August 16 change to the rules will go ahead, Mr Malthouse replied: 'As I say, I was asked on Sunday whether it would be earlier, I think that is unlikely.

'Let's all hope the numbers go well to the 16th but people will be assessing in the week before what the numbers look like and then taking a decision nearer the time.'

Many firms believe it will take at least a week to set up testing facilities so that workers can be checked daily.

That has prompted warnings that there could be food shortages in the coming days. 

Food supply chain bosses were reportedly invited to a Government virtual summit yesterday to be told how the testing regime will work.    

Business leaders told The Times that they will have to pass 'really quite rigorous protocols' to be eligible to take part, with strict rules on data gathering.

Shane Brennan, the chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, a trade body which represents chilled and frozen food storage firms, told the newspaper: 'You'll be building something that looks quite a lot like a vaccination centre.'

The 'pingdemic' has seen hundreds of thousands of Brits told to stay at home for 10 days after being identified as a close contact of a positive coronavirus case

The Government announced last night that bin collectors, prison staff and defence personnel are being added to the self-isolation exemptions list 

Mr Brennan said supermarkets will 'probably continue to see some interruptions in supply' as he described the Government's handling of the issue as an 'incoherent mess'. 

The Department of Health said the testing facilities 'will be the responsibility of the individual companies' but the Government will offer support.

Downing Street was yesterday unable to say how many of the 500 food sector-specific testing sites were up and running. 

The PM's Official Spokesman said: ‘We expect 500 sites to be able to test within this week and we said at the end of last week we have rolled out the workplace contact testing following the Government’s engagement with the industries that have been affected by self-isolation.

‘It is obviously the case that we want to avoid any disruption in critical services which is why we have expanded that testing.’

Pushed again on how many were operational amid reports that it was only 25, the spokesman replied: ‘It will be 500 by the end of the week.’

The vast number of people self-isolating after being advised to by the NHS app has been fuelled by the high numbers of coronavirus infections that have swept the nation as the Delta variant thrived and restrictions were eased.

The scale of the issue was shown by figures stating more than 600,000 people in England and Wales were told to quarantine by the NHS Covid-19 app in the week to July 14.

Ministers have so far resisted pressure from business leaders and some senior Conservative MPs to bring forward the wider relaxation of isolation rules for all fully-vaccinated people in England from August 16. 

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