U.K. Secretary of Business Kwasi Kwarteng on Thursday morning said he was “concerned” by risks of food shortages as the rise in coronavirus cases across the country is forcing thousands of shop workers, food industry staff and delivery drivers to isolate.
“We are very concerned about some developments, [but] I don’t want people to get the impression that every shelf in every supermarket is bare, that’s not the case,” Kwarteng said.
Despite the pressure on supermarkets the British government has insisted it is not planning to allow shop workers to claim exemptions to isolation rules. “If you are pinged [by the NHS Test & Trace app], you should self-isolate … the rules are clear, and they should be followed,” Kwarteng said.
Leaders of the food and retail industry on Wednesday called on the government to change the rules. “The ongoing ‘pingdemic’ is putting increasing pressure on retailers’ ability to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked. Government needs to act fast,” the British Retail Consortium’s Director of Food Andrew Opie said.
“Until now we’ve managed to keep the supply chain running but there’s a sense we’re starting to fail on that front,” said Nick Allen of the British Meat Processors Association in an interview with BBC Radio 4 Wednesday.
Staff shortages are an issue across multiple sectors in the country. Dozens of councils have had to suspend bin collections due staff being obliged to self-isolate. Two of England’s largest rail networks — Southern and Thameslink — will see their timetables reduced as of next week.
NHS England data suggest that NHS staff absence rose to 60 percent at the start of July due to staff having to self-isolate because they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or because they have been infected themselves. NHS figures show 618,903 alerts were sent to users of the NHS COVID app in England and Wales between July 8 and July 14 telling people they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus.
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