The government has ruled out extending special exemptions from the self-isolation rule to the hospitality or retail sectors, despite fears that the “pingdemic” is reaching a crisis point.
Environment Secretary George Eustice has also made it clear that a new ‘test and release’ program for the food industry will focus on warehouse and distribution workers – not supermarket workers. .
Around 10,000 workers deemed essential to Britain’s food supply chain will be able to avoid quarantine if they are ‘pinched’ by the NHS Covid app – as long as they test negative under a new daily testing regime.
Retail and hospitality managers also want staff to avoid self-isolation through regular testing, before broader rule changes take effect on August 16. But Mr Eustice said on Friday the regime would not be extended.
The Environment Secretary told Sky News: “The reason we made a special exception for food is for very obvious reasons – we have to make sure that we maintain our food supply, we will never take risks. with our food supply. “
The Minister added: “Regarding the other sectors, yes of course the fact that they also have high absence rates causes them some stress and makes it more difficult.”
Mr Eustice said: “You also have to keep in mind why we are doing this and we are always trying to slow down the rate and the speed at which this infection is spreading because we have to keep a very close eye on these hospitalizations.”
When asked why supermarket staff were not included in the exemptions, Mr Eustice said it was easier to deal with staff shortages at the store level.
The cabinet minister told the BBC Breakfast: “Well the main reason is that it would be a really big business, because then you’re talking about thousands of different stores and a lot more people, and we still want to keep the system of testing, traceability, and isolation.
“We know that what matters most is ensuring that the main arteries in our food supply chain continue to function, that trucks continue to leave depots to move goods for storage, and that food manufacturers can continue to manufacture. the goods to transport them to the depots.
“When you get to the store level, of course, yes, there will be difficulties, they will have staff shortages. But it’s easier to manage at this level.
Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, welcomed the government’s announcement of exemptions for workers in the food supply chain.
He told Times Radio: “I think it’s important because the supply disruptions… and fears of it getting worse were starting to grow pretty quickly.”
Mr Wright added: “I must admit that I am still a little puzzled as to why the government does not want to bring [the end of the self-isolation requirement on August 16] forward and I think it would be useful to know exactly why the hiatus is justified.
Some players in the food industry said it was not yet clear exactly who would be able to access the “test and release” program. The British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) called the move “worse than unnecessary”.
“The government’s announcement last night that parts of the supply chain will be allowed to test and release workers who are track and trace bonkers is only part of the way,” said Richard Harrow, director general of the BFFF.
“This shows that once again the government does not understand how connected the food supply chain is, opening one party is unlikely to solve the overall problem. Plus, who is in and Who is out, who decides and how do they decide Confusion continues to reign and I have been advised not to have a list until Monday.
The founder and owner of one of the country’s largest food producers said the industry remains at “crisis point”. Ranjit Singh Boparan, of the 2 Sisters Food Group, said the government must do more or tackle the “most severe food shortages this country has seen in over 75 years”.
Meanwhile, the government has revealed new guidelines allowing people “appointed” in 16 critical sectors – including essential transportation, emergency services and energy – to obtain special self-isolation exemptions.
The new guidelines say “a limited number of named workers” may be able to bypass 10-day quarantine rules if self-isolation would cause serious disruption to “critical services.”
But the policy only applies to appointed workers if their employer has received a letter from the relevant government department. “This is not a general exemption for all workers in a sector,” says the guide.
Responding to criticism that the complexity of exemptions for critical sectors could make the regime “impractical”, Mr Eustice said the exemptions were deliberately “limited”.
The environment secretary told the Today program: “Well, look, this is a limited waiver and we are not claiming otherwise.” We have opted for a fairly generous intervention for the food supply chain where they will not have to provide names.
He added: “In these other areas, we try to target this on a smaller number of people. “