Food workers exempted from isolation with tests as businesses fighting for survival

Businesses are fighting for survival and supply chains are “breaking down” amid the ‘pingdemic’ as the Government bowed to pressure and exempted food industry workers from isolation.

Empty shelves and signs on the soft drinks aisle of a Sainsbury's store in Blackheath, Rowley Regis in the West Midlands. (PA/Matthew Cooper)
Empty shelves and signs on the soft drinks aisle of a Sainsbury's store in Blackheath, Rowley Regis in the West Midlands. (PA/Matthew Cooper)

Daily tests which will allow staff to skip quarantine, even if they have been alerted by the app, will now be rolled out to certain workplaces, ministers said on Thursday evening, with the food industry being prioritised amid pictures of empty shelves across the country.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Workers in our food and drink sectors have overcome enormous challenges and done everything they can to keep our shelves stocked and our fridges full.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

“As we manage this virus and do everything we can to break chains of transmission, daily contact testing of workers in this vital sector will help to minimise the disruption caused by rising cases in the coming weeks.”

More than 618,000 people across England and Wales were told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app last week, and the impact in parts of Yorkshire has been described as “particularly significant” by one expert due to the number of small businesses.

Carolyn Frank, development manager at the Federation of Small Businesses in North Yorkshire told The Yorkshire Post “it is business survival we’re talking about”.

She described the situation as “really hampering the recovery from the pandemic” when businesses were “just ready to push that go button and get trading and thrive.”

“I think the impact here is particularly significant because we have so many small businesses,” she explained.

“The majority of businesses here and micro businesses, if you’ve got only four employees, and two of them are off, that’s half your business. If you have 1000 employees, and two of them are off, there’s not as much impact so I think we are seeing supply chains breaking down.”

Meanwhile, one West Yorkshire business owner described the ongoing issues with supply and staff as “absolutely desperate”.

Andrew Robinson, director of D&R Group Wholesalers said “The most heavily used tool in here is my Tippex pen, because every time I do a rota, I just end up rubbing everything out.”

He called the scenario “ten times as bad as during the first lockdown, not just on the staff front but on getting stock” and added: “The food chain is bust and gone completely. You’ve got everything going wrong. No lorry drivers and no retail staff.”

Earlier on Thursday, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said the Government is “working closely” with industries being impacted by isolation.

“Specifically on supermarket shelves and food, we have a robust and resilient food supply chain in the UK as you’ve seen throughout the pandemic,” he added.