UK ‘pingdemic’ raises fears of food shortages


Supply chains are severely disrupted with hundreds of thousands of workers in self-isolation as COVID cases rise.

UK supermarkets, wholesalers and haulers are struggling to ensure stable food and fuel supplies after an official health app asked hundreds of thousands of workers to isolate themselves after being exposed to COVID-19.

On Thursday, newspapers front-paged photos of empty shelves in supermarkets, while shoppers also took to social media to highlight the shortage of some products in stores across the country.

Reuters news agency reported that food items were widely available in stores in the capital London, although there was some shortage of bottled water, soft drinks and some salads and meat products. Sainsbury’s, the United Kingdom’s second-largest supermarket group, said customers will generally be able to find the products they want, although perhaps not every brand.

Addressing reports of empty supermarket shelves in some areas, Business Secretary Quasi Quarteng told UK broadcaster Sky News that the government was “very concerned about the situation”.

He said officials were closely monitoring the incidents.

Availability issues’

Quarteng’s comments came after several businesses warned the situation was becoming dire, with Britain’s so-called “pingdemic” staggering supply chains due to varying worker numbers.

As infection rates rise across the country, hundreds of thousands of people have been “pinged” by a National Health Service (NHS) app for 10 days after recording close contact with the person who tested them. asking to stay. positive for coronavirus.

More than half a million people were asked to self-isolate in the first week of July alone – the highest weekly figure since the app’s launch in September 2020 – and that number continues to rise. Official figures on Thursday showed that around 620,000 people in England and Wales were asked to isolate in the week leading up to July 14, with most in England.

It came as a meat industry body warned on Wednesday that Britain’s food supply chain is “on the edge of failing”, with COVID-19-related absenteeism exacerbating severe labor shortages.

Meanwhile supermarket conglomerate Iceland announced it had closed several stores due to staff shortages.

“We have a structural issue with HGV” [heavy goods vehicles] Drivers for many different reasons, but of course ‘Pingdemic’ has made it worse,” managing director Richard Walker told UK broadcaster ITV.

“We’re starting to see some availability issues.”

Reopening interrupted by ‘pingdemic’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move on Monday to further ease England’s COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and boost the country’s pandemic-battered economy has been tarnished by the number of people now self-isolating.

The app’s alerts, which are advisory but not legally binding, have caused massive disruption in the hospitality, manufacturing and media sectors as well as the UK’s transport network, schools and healthcare system.

Ministers have argued that the system plays an important role in combating the spread of the virus as the UK’s COVID-19 caseload rises, with more than 44,000 new infections recorded on Wednesday.

However, to ease pressure on some sectors, the government announced on Monday that it would allow workers in some critical roles to continue to work despite being “pinged” if they were fully vaccinated.

Officials have said the exemptions will be considered “on a case-by-case basis,” with employers filing applications on behalf of staff members, and no comprehensive list of eligible critical workers to be drawn up.

increased risk of infection

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium’s industry lobby group, called on the government to act swiftly.

“Retail workers and suppliers who have played a key role in this pandemic should be allowed to work, provided they are double immunized or can show a negative COVID test, to ensure that food and other There is no impediment to the public’s ability to obtain goods. ,” he told.

While the NHS app’s self-isolation shopping is advisory only, anyone in England who contacts its Test and Trace service directly will be required by law to isolate for 10 days.

The UK has the world’s seventh-highest COVID-19 death toll and the rate of new cases is projected to rise sharply after the recent lifting of restrictions in England, which Johnson called “Independence Day”. has been described.

But a rapid vaccination program in which 87 percent of adults have received at least one vaccine dose and more than 68 percent are fully vaccinated, appears to have weakened the link between infection and death.

Daily deaths have been lower in recent weeks than in earlier waves of the pandemic.

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