Emergency measures to protect food supplies will see thousands of workers potentially avoid the need to self-isolate.
Workers at up to 500 critical sites could be exempt from quarantine rules in a bid to prevent food supply problems.
The move – along with a limited relaxation of self-isolation rules in other key sectors of the economy and vital public services – came as Boris Johnson faced mounting warnings about the impact of the “pingdemic”.
Under the plan to keep supermarket shelves stocked, daily testing will be offered as an alternative to self-isolation in important links in the food supply chain.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “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, while ensuring workers are not put at risk.”
Priority testing sites already identified
Retail bosses urged shoppers not to stockpile and said there is plenty of food, but businesses are being hit as staff are “pinged” by the app or contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
Priority testing sites – including the largest supermarket distribution centres – have already been identified for urgent implementation this week, with hundreds more planned next week.
The move means workers who have received an NHS Covid-19 app alert to isolate or have been called by Test and Trace will be able to continue working if they test negative.
‘Absolutely vital new scheme is rolled out quickly’
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium said: “It is absolutely vital that Government makes up for lost time and rolls out this new scheme as fast as possible.
“Disruption is limited at the moment, and retailers are monitoring the situation closely.”
Over 600k alerts sent to Covid app users
The need for urgent action was underlined as the latest figures showed a record number of people in England and Wales were “pinged” as contacts by the app and told to self-isolate for up to 10 days.
NHS figures showed 618,903 alerts were sent to users of the coronavirus app in the week to July 14, a period before England’s restrictions were lifted and more social contact was allowed.
People in England who are fully vaccinated will not have to self-isolate if identified as a contact from August 16, nearly a month after restrictions on social mixing were lifted and at a time when cases have soared.
Alongside the measures to protect food supplies, the Government published guidance on Thursday night setting out limited exemptions for other critical workers.
A version of this article originally appeared on NationalWorld.com