Frontline workers paralysed by Pingdemic chaos will get access to 200 new testing sites from Monday – but there is still confusion as to who will use them and why the government has taken so long to act.
Some police, firefighters, Border Force staff and transport workers were already eligible for a self-isolation exemption, but only if their employers specified their names and they were double-jabbed against Covid-19.
The Government on Saturday said in a statement that an expected initial extra 200 testing sites would be opened so that daily contact testing could be ‘rolled out to further critical workplaces in England’.
But currently around 2.3million people from critical areas and jobs have been forced into isolation due to being pinged.
And it sparked harsh words from some sectors over the lack of clarity from the authorities.
Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, added: ‘We desperately need this detail and need it quickly.
‘The last we heard, communication could be coming on Monday, so we have a long weekend to get through yet. We need a sense of urgency here.’
Some 200 new test centres are going to be set up throughout the country to try and stem the chaos caused by the pindemic
Freedom day has prompted an extraordinary onslaught of pings to people following the coronavirus rules still left
Richard Harrow, chief executive of the Frozen Food Federation, said: ‘The Government announcement last night that parts of the supply chain will be allowed to test and release workers that are pinged by Track and Trace only goes part of the way.
‘It shows that yet again Government does not understand how connected the food supply chain is. Only opening part is unlikely to solve the overall issue. Plus, who is in and who is out, who decides and how do they decide?
‘Confusion continues to pervade and I have been advised no list until Monday. This is worse than useless.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel insisted: ‘Daily testing will keep our frontline teams safe while they continue to serve the public and communities across our country.’
The expansion came after the Government on Thursday announced its programme would allow thousands of workers at up to 500 sites in the food sector to avoid the need to self-isolate if identified as a contact of a coronavirus case, and instead take daily Covid tests.
Discontent with the Government’s self-isolation policy was growing at the weekend as food industry bosses condemned changes to ease the ‘pingdemic’ , hospitality leaders warned of a summer of closures and train operators were forced to cut services.
Pressure has mounted on Downing Street to bring forward the date at which people who are double vaccinated against coronavirus can avoid self-isolation.
There were increasing calls for Boris Johnson to bring forward his wider relaxation of quarantine rules for the fully vaccinated from August 16 as businesses were hampered by staff being told to isolate as coronavirus cases soar.
The empty bottled water shelves in Tesco in Cambridge on Thursday morning due to the ‘pingdemic’
Empty shelves in Asda as Britain was caught in a perfect storm of staff shortages and a lack of lorry drivers
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’
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
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’
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’.
In a bid to calm the concerns of industry, ministers published a limited list of sectors whose double-jabbed workers are eligible to avoid isolation if they undergo daily testing before the wider easing of rules for England.
Industry leaders said the move did not include sufficient workers but doctors warned the problem is that the Prime Minister has let the virus ‘rip’ and not the ‘pings’ being issued by the NHS Covid-19 app to tell coronavirus contacts to isolate.
The mounting criticism came as data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed Covid-19 cases continued to rise, with around one in 75 people in England infected.
The estimate of the number testing positive – 741,700 – in the week to July 17 is the highest since the week to January 30.
There has been mounting pressure for weeks on the government to tweak the sensitivity of the app or make exemptions for key workers and fully vaccinated Britons following warnings that it could lead to food shortages and major disruptions as the epidemic grows.
Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, Morrisons, Asda, M&S and Waitrose are seeing significant gaps on the shelves in most aisles, but specifically wine, frozen food, fresh meat such as minced beef, dairy products such as cheese, pizzas, bottled water, fruit, vegetables and packaged salads and cooked meats.
One shopper at Lidl in Mirfield West Yorkshire told MailOnline the situation was an ‘utter joke’ and felt like the start of the 2020 lockdown, describing ’empty freezers, hardly any wine and virtually no detergent’, adding: ‘Next there will be rationing’.
Iceland boss Richard Walker has warned that Britain’s creaking food supply chains are on the brink of collapse causing shortages of products in shops with 1,000 of his staff – one in 20 – among the 1.7million Britons currently stuck at home.
UK supermarkets are in the midst of a perfect storm of staff and stock problems with tens of thousands of workers self-isolating because of the ‘pingdemic’.
The struggle to stack shelves and staff stores and warehouses is being made worse by a lack of lorry drivers to deliver food. The Road Haulage Association believes the country is 100,000 HGV drivers short – and thousands of prospective drivers are waiting for their HGV tests due to a backlog caused by lockdown, while many existing ones have returned to the EU from the UK after Brexit.
It came as businesses, including one of Britain’s largest food distribution firms, Bidfood, began taking the crisis into their own hands and began advising workers who are pinged by the NHS app to take tests and continue working rather than stay at home for up to ten days as the Government suggests.
Mr Kwarteng said: ‘The rule is very clear, we should self-isolate. It’s as simple as that. If you are pinged, you should self-isolate. I’m not going to countenance people breaking the rules or anything like that. I think they should just follow them’.
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