Britain’s supermarkets, wholesalers and carriers are struggling to ensure stable food and fuel after an official health app told hundreds of thousands of workers to isolate themselves after contact with someone with COVID-19.
On Thursday, newspapers carried front-page photos of empty shelves in supermarkets, while shoppers also took to social media to highlight the lack of certain products in stores across the country.
The Reuters news agency said food was widely available in stores in the capital, London, even though there was a shortage of bottled water, soft drinks and some salads and meat products. The UK’s second largest supermarket group, Sainsbury’s, said customers could generally find the products they wanted, even though not all brands.
Addressing reports of empty supermarket shelves in some areas, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told British broadcaster Sky News that the government was “very concerned about the situation”.
He added that officials were monitoring the events closely.
Kwarteng’s comments came after several companies warned that the situation was becoming serious, with supply chains faltering due to the number of workers isolating themselves amid the so-called “pingdemic” of the UK.
As infection rates rise across the country, hundreds of thousands of people have been “pinged” by the National Health Service (NHS) application, telling them to stay home for up to 10 days after being strictly registered. contact with a person who has tested positive for coronavirus.
More than half a million people have said they self-isolate themselves in the first week of July alone – the highest weekly figure since the application launched in September 2020 – and that number continues to grow. Thursday’s official figures show nearly 620,000 people in England and Wales were said to be isolated in the week leading up to July 14, with the vast majority in England.
It comes after a meat industry body warned Wednesday that Britain’s food supply chains are “right on the brink of failure”, with absences in relation to COVID-19 exacerbating a critical shortage of food. work.
Meanwhile, the Icelandic supermarket group has announced it has closed several stores due to lack of staff.
“We have a structural problem with HGV [heavy goods vehicles] hosts for a variety of different reasons, but of course the “pingdemic” also got worse, ”Richard Walker, general manager, told British broadcaster ITV.
“We’re starting to see some availability issues.”
Reopening marked by ‘pingdemic’
The move by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to further ease restrictions on COVID-19 blockades in England on Monday and strengthen the country’s pandemic economy has been hampered by the number of people now isolated.
Application alerts, which are advisory but not legally binding, have also caused enormous disruptions in the hospitality, manufacturing and media sectors, as well as in the transport network, schools and the UK health system.
Ministers have argued that the system plays an important role in the fight against the spread of the virus as COVID-19’s CASV grows in the UK, with more than 44,000 new infections recorded on Wednesday.
However, in an attempt to relieve pressure on certain sectors, the government announced Monday that it would allow workers in certain critical roles to continue working despite being “pinged” if they were fully vaccinated.
Officials said the exemptions will be “considered on a case-by-case basis”, employers will have to submit applications on behalf of staff members, and no full list of eligible critical workers will be drawn up.
Infections expected to grow
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability for the industry lobby group, the British Retail Consortium, called on the government to act quickly.
“Workers and retail suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work as long as they are vaccinated twice or can show a negative COVID test, to ensure that there is no interruption in the pandemic. the public’s ability to get food and other goods, ”he said.
While NHS application self-isolation pings are only recommended, anyone in the UK who is contacted directly by their Test and Trace service must by law isolate for 10 days.
The UK has the seventh highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the world and the forecast for new cases will rise sharply following the recent lifting of restrictions in England, characterized by Johnson as “freedom day”.
But a rapid vaccination program that has seen 87 percent of adults receive at least one dose of vaccination and more than 68 percent completely inoculated to date appears to have weakened the link between infection and death.
Daily deaths have remained low in recent weeks compared to the first waves of pandemic.