The UK government is planning to roll out daily Coronavirus (COVID-19) testing for employees in the food sector ‘pinged’ by the NHS Test and Trace app in a bid to alleviate staff shortages caused by a surge in self-isolations.
The plans, announced late on Thursday, mean that rather than having to isolate for 10 days, food industry staff will be able to keep working provided they continue to test negative for the virus, with the government saying it will set up priority testing sites at major supermarket distribution centres this week and as many as 500 sites from next week.
Some workers in critical roles may also be allowed to carry on working even if they are ‘pinged’ by the app, provided the employing company receives authorisation that is only granted for designated, double-vaccinated workers in approved workplaces.
The move comes amid multiple reports that the sheer number of self-isolating staff is causing supply chains to become strained, leading to empty shelves in many supermarkets.
Major grocers such as J Sainsbury PLC (LSE:SBRY) have warned that customers may not be able to find the exact product they are looking for as a result of the disruption, while Iceland warned that it had closed several stores due to a lack of staff.
However, Asda, the UK’s third-largest supermarket, has said despite the uptick in isolations staff absences were below the levels seen during the height of the pandemic.
Official data showed that in the week to July 14, 620,000 people were told to isolate by the app in England and Wales amid a surge of confirmed COVID-19 cases, although hospital admissions and death rates continue to be well below those seen during previous waves.