COVID-19: Self-isolation exemption for food supply chain staff will not be extended to other businesses, says minister – Sky News

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Emergency measures to exempt food supply chain workers from coronavirus self-isolation rules will not be extended to other businesses, the environment secretary has told Sky News.

On excluding other sectors such as hospitality, George Eustice said he understood it was frustrating, but stressed the need to “dampen the pace and velocity” at which the COVID-19 infection was spreading.

It comes after the government announced moves to protect food stocks in the face of mounting warnings about the impact of the so-called “pingdemic”.

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Empty shelves in the Lidl
Image: Steps are being taken to protect food stocks in the face of the so-called ‘pingdemic’

Under the plan to keep shelves stocked, daily coronavirus testing will be offered as an alternative to self-isolation to around 10,000 workers at 500 key sites in the food supply chain industry, including 170 supermarket depots.

There will also be a limited relaxation of self-isolation rules in other key sectors of the economy and vital public services, including essential transport, the emergency services and energy industry.

Mr Eustice said: “We are obviously keeping everything under review.

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“The reason we have made a special exception for food is for very obvious reasons.

“We need to make sure that we maintain our food supply. We will never take risks with our food supply.

“When it comes to other sectors, yes of course the fact they are also carrying high absence levels is causing some stress for them, making it more difficult.

“But you also have to bear in mind why we are doing this.

“We are trying to still dampen the pace and velocity at which this infection is spreading, because we have to keep a very close eye on those hospitalisations.”

Pressed over whether the situation with coronavirus is likely to get worse before it gets better, the environment secretary said: “Absolutely.”

He added: “It is likely to because hospitalisations do follow the infection rate by two to three weeks and so that’s why we’re doing this.

“I know it’s frustrating for everybody but we do want to try to just dampen the curve of this infection until it turns and things start to go in the other direction, and then of course we can move to a different system for everyone.”

A food and drink industry boss has welcomed the government’s announcement of exemptions from the NHS app isolation requirements for food supply chain workers.

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said: “The last few days of uncertainty have been a period of great disruption for the food and drink supply chain.

“It is clear that the government has listened to industry’s concerns and the recent announcement of exemptions from isolation, which includes food and drink manufacturers, is welcome.

“The devil is in the detail so we will continue to look into the guidance and further understand how the scheme will work.”

But frustrations remain in the wider business community.

Confederation of British Industry director general Tony Danker said: “The current approach to self-isolation is closing down the economy rather than opening it up.”

Businesses have already exhausted contingency plans to get in extra staff and are “at risk of grinding to a halt in the next few weeks”, he said.

Hannah Essex, from the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “While the announcement of a process which may exempt select critical workers from self-isolation in England will be a relief to some businesses, it will leave many more still facing critical staff shortages and lost revenue as the number of people being asked to isolate remains high.”

The government action comes as 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.

A negative lateral flow test next to advice from the NHS COVID app (file pic)
Image: Latest figures show a record number of people in England and Wales were ‘pinged’

NHS figures showed 618,903 alerts were sent to users of the coronavirus app in the week to 14 July, a period before England’s restrictions were lifted and more social contact was allowed.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the government risks “losing social consent” for isolation if it does not immediately bring forward the relaxation of quarantine rules for the fully vaccinated.

People in England who are fully vaccinated will not have to self-isolate if identified as a contact from 16 August, nearly a month after restrictions on social mixing were lifted and at a time when cases have soared.

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