Quarantine rules for workers to be eased in England to avoid shortages

Photo: AP Empty shelves in Sainsbury's store in Rowley Regis, the West Midlands, England, 22 July.

The British government has sought to ease food supply pressures in England by exempting more than 10,000 workers from quarantine rules that had led to staff shortages and empty shelves and fears of panic-buying, AP reported. In an announcement late Thursday following mounting pressure from increasingly vexed retailers, the government outlined plans for daily Covid-19 testing of critical food industry workers that will effectively allow those who test negative to continue working even if they have been notified on their phones to self-isolate due to contact with someone with the virus.

The move, along with a limited relaxation of self-isolation rules for “critical workers” in other key sectors and vital public services came amid growing concerns within government of the impact of the so-called ‘pingdemic’ on many key sectors of the British economy.

Many critics say the app has being unfairly singled out and is a distraction from the fact that the UK is in the midst of a third surge of the pandemic as result of the spread of the more contagious delta variant and the lifting of lockdown restrictions. With daily infections predicted by the government to at least double to 100,000 this summer, the number of people being pinged by the app will inevitably grow, potentially to more than 1m a week.

Amid the resurgence of the virus across the country, hundreds of thousands of people, including British PM Boris Johnson, are having to self-isolate for 10 days after being advised by the National Health Service’s test and trace app that they have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.

It was primarily concerns over food supplies that drove the government’s change in approach as more and more workers, including crucial delivery drivers, were having to self-isolate, leading to scenes of empty supermarket shelves and fears of panic-buying by anxious consumers.

The government said it has identified priority locations, including the largest supermarket distribution centers, where testing will begin this week. The programme will be expanded to as many as 500 sites next week, encompassing providers of staple foods such as bread and dairy products.

“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,” Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News on Friday.

The government’s new policy was welcomed by retailers but many said the government must be prepared to take further action, potentially bringing forward its previously announced plan to change the self-isolation rules on 16 August. On that date, the government has said it would exempt double-jabbed individuals from the self-isolation rules.

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