Make supermarket staff EXEMPT from 'Pingdemic', demands Iceland boss

Empty food shelves could soon be seen across the ENTIRE country, Iceland boss warns as supermarkets demand Government releases ‘key worker’ exemption list to solve ‘pingdemic’ crisis – but minister hints chaos could continue BEYOND August 16

  • Iceland said it closed ‘a number of stores’ due to staff having to self-isolate after being notified by NHS app 
  • The frozen food chain revealed 1,000 employees – four per cent of its workforce – have had to stay at home 
  • It said that in the next few days it will start to draft in another 2,000 people to fill temporary roles in stores 
  • Meanwhile BP said it has had to temporarily close some of its stations due to petrol and diesel supply issues 
  • The oil company said the problems were being caused by a shortage of lorry drivers that had been ‘pinged’ 
  • And M&S warned one in five – 20% – of its workforce could be isolating at home by the middle of next month 
  • Have you noticed shortages of specific goods? Contact [email protected] 

Boss of food firm supplying prisons, hospitals and schools admits he has told ‘pinged’ staff they don’t have to self-isolate after a negative test so they can deliver their daily orders

A food distribution firm struggling with staff shortages is advising workers who are pinged by the NHS app to take tests and continue working, in breach of the Government advice.

Bidfood chief executive Andrew Selley defended his approach for delivery drivers to continue working if they have negative results as ‘appropriate and safe’ because they are ‘critical workers’.

He said the firm, whose customers include hospitals, has heard no information about how to apply for an exemption for some fully-vaccinated staff to avoid quarantine under new plans to ease the ‘pingdemic’.

Amid a ‘real challenge’ in completing orders on time, he said workers are being asked to follow a testing regime if they receive an alert from the app as a close contact.

‘We know that they’re critical workers as part of the food supply chain, so if people are obviously positive or contacted by Test and Trace then they will have to isolate,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘If they are pinged we ask them to take a PCR test, if that’s positive then clearly they’ll isolate, but if it’s negative we ask them to come back to work and we have a process of doing lateral flow tests daily away from their workplace, and if that’s negative they can proceed with their work.’

Ministers have confused the rules this week, but, as they stand, isolating for 10 days after an alert from the app is the official advice from the Government, but it is not a legal obligation like if contacted by Test and Trace.

Told his testing programme is contrary to Government advice, Mr Selley said: ‘We think that’s appropriate and safe. The ping is advisory’.

Britain’s supermarkets face an epidemic of empty shelves through the summer unless ministers urgently exempt staff and HGV drivers from self-isolating when ‘pinged’, retail bosses and experts warned today. 

Iceland boss Richard Walker has warned that Britain’s creaking food supply chains are on the brink of collapse causing shortages of products in shops because 1,000 of his staff – almost one in 20 – are among the 1.7million Britons currently stuck at home.   

Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Lidl, Morrisons, Asda, M&S and Waitrose are also seeing significant gaps on the shelves in most aisles, but specifically frozen food, fresh meat, dairy products such as cheese, pizzas, bottled water, fruit and packaged salads and meats.

It came as Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng admitted the ‘pingdemic’ may continue beyond August 16 – when rules are due to be dropped for the double jabbed – saying he had his ‘fingers crossed’ it will happen but he  ‘can’t guarantee that’. 

UK supermarkets are is in a midst of a perfect storm of problems with tens of thousands of workers self-isolating because of the NHS app. The struggle to stack shelves and staff stores and warehouses is being made worse by a lack of lorry drivers to deliver food.

The Road Haulage Association believes the country is 100,000 HGV drivers short – and thousands of prospective drivers are waiting for their HGV tests due to a backlog caused by lockdown, while many existing ones have returned to the EU from the UK after Brexit. 

Mr Walker said Iceland’s ‘double pronged problem’ of staff shortages and a lack of lorry drivers is forcing them to draft in 2,000 temporary workers to keep the business running.

He said: ‘We are seeing some availability issues and it is now very challenging to keep our shops open and keep lorries on the road to our shops to supply food with staff in there to serve the customers. We’ve shut two stores and have reduced hours in others. It is ironic that we’ve worked so hard to as a nation – and a business, our staff have been nothing short of heroic, to keep this show on the road and we kept every single shop open throughout the pandemic’. 

He added: ‘There is absolutely no need to panic buy… the people who should be panicking are the government’. 

Kwasi Kwarteng revealed that the Government is scrambling to put together a list of critical workers who will be exempt when pinged – 48 hours after Downing Street said there wouldn’t be one. Mr Kwarteng said: ‘We are going to announce a list of exempt workers’, but warned: ‘The list will be quite narrow’. He admitted ‘there have been shortages’ at supermarkets but insisted they are ‘not universal’.

Demanding immediate action from Boris Johnson’s ministers, Mr Walker said: ‘We’re being forced to limit our service, not because of the virus itself, but because of the system we’ve created around the virus and that’s why we need urgent clarity from the Government and we need that key worker list to contain retail workers and HGV drivers – the unsung heroes who keep our economy turning’.

Freezers empty at Sainsbury’s in Craigleith, Edinburgh, overnight as the ‘pingdemic’ decimates Britain’s retailers

Empty bread shelves in Asda in Cambridge due to the ‘pingdemic’ and a shortage of lorry drivers.

Supermarkets and petrol stations have been forced to shut due to staff shortages caused by the ‘pingdemic’ amid warnings 20 per cent of workers could be isolating in less than a month.

How NHS app Pingdemic chaos is bringing Britain to a grinding halt 

  • Meat industry body CEO warns that food supply chains are ‘starting to fail’; 
  • Thameslink and Southern announced a reduced timetable from Monday due to self-isolation; 
  • Vauxhall temporarily stops night shifts at its Luton plant due to a number of staff having to self-isolate;
  • Actor Kenneth Branagh’s production of The Browning Version becomes the latest play to be called off; 
  • Head of NHS providers says ambulance and acute hospital trusts  are now under ‘extreme pressure’;
  • More councils suspend green waste pick-ups, as others shut libraries; 
  • Neale Wade Academy in Cambridgeshire among the schools to close early due to teachers being pinged; 
  • Pret temporarily closes several branches, including Moorgate and CityPoint in London;
  • Lorry driver complains of ‘pumps running dry’ at BP petrol stations due to delays in fuel deliveries;
  • Food and Drink Federation survey finds three-quarters of its members report shortage of drivers. 

Iceland said it had closed ‘a number of stores’ due to staff having to self-isolate after being notified by the NHS app.

The frozen food chain revealed 1,000 employees – four per cent of its workforce – have had to stay at home.

It confirmed in the next few days it will start to draft in another 2,000 people to fill temporary roles across its shops following an advertising blitz in stores, on social media and in service stations.

Meanwhile BP said it has had to temporarily close some of its stations due to a petrol and diesel supply problem.

The oil company said the ‘vast majority’ of issues were being ‘resolved within a day’ but noted they were being caused by a shortage of lorry drivers that had been ‘pinged’.

And M&S warned one in five – 20 per cent – of its workforce could be isolating at home by the middle of next month – meaning it could have to slash opening hours.

It comes as it emerged as many as 1.7million workers are thought to be in quarantine, either through being pinged by the NHS Covid app or contacted by test and trace officials.

The Prime Minister, Chancellor and Health Secretary are all also in self-isolation and yesterday Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer joined them after one of his children contracted Covid.

Bosses say the sheer number of staff being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app is putting their businesses at risk. They want key employees to be able to escape quarantine if they are double jabbed and test negative for the virus. But Boris Johnson insisted this will not happen until August 16. 

The images will raise concerns a lack of supermarket staff and delivery drivers are leading to delays in replenishing product lines, although it is likely many of these products are in higher demand in the summer, while other shoppers reported plentiful supplies.

Helen Dickinson, CEO of the British Retail Consortium, said: ‘We are already seeing a serious impact on retail operations as a result of staff having to self-isolate and this will only get worse.’

She demanded an end to ‘needless quarantine’ for people who have been double-jabbed and tested negative for Covid.

In the face of widespread anger over labour shortages as Covid cases continued to soar, the Prime Minister this week announced a plan for a ‘small number’ of critical workers to be able to continue their functions.

But British Meat Processors Association chief executive Nick Allen criticised ‘confusing messages’ from the Government as he said ministers have not clarified who is applicable.

He told the Today programme: ‘There’s an air of despondency creeping through the industry really. Until now we’ve managed to keep the food supply chain running but there’s a sense of we’re starting to fail on that front.’

Asked if production lines are stalling, he said: ‘They are. It’s happening already. We’re starting to see that at retail level and in restaurants – everyone is struggling to get things out really.’ 

The frozen fish section at a Morrisons in Manchester as supermarket shoppers complained of shortages of some products 

An empty freezer section at a Sainsbury’s Local in Bristol today amid complaints that a shortage of drivers was making it difficult to deliver food products 

The meat section at a Tesco in Bristol today. Today the British Meat Processors Association complained that food supplies chains had been put under heavy strain 

Gaps in the mineral water section at Lidl in Granton, Edinburgh. Similar scenes were seen in other stores across the country today 

Iceland boss Richard Walker said: ‘A number of stores have had to close and the concern is that as this thing rises exponentially, it could get a lot worse.

Have you noticed shortages of certain goods? 

Email [email protected]

‘We urgently need an overhaul of the rules around the Test and Trace app, ideally switching to a ‘Test and Release’ model, which would come as a huge relief to employers, employees and customers and support the wider efforts to strengthen the economy.’

A spokesman for Iceland continued: ‘We have been bringing local colleagues in from nearby stores to support the stores that need more help.

‘It has been all hands to the pump. We’ve seen managers driving delivery vans and really going above and beyond.’

They added: ‘Any availability impact is due to absence in HGV drivers, but moreover a far deeper rooted issue in HGV drivers UK-wide, worsened by the pingdemic.’

Meanwhile BP said: ‘We are working hard with our haulier supplier to deliver fuel into sites and minimise any disruption to our customers. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

‘Our supply chain has been impacted by the industry-wide driver shortages across the UK, and was exacerbated by the temporary closure of our Hemel Hempstead fuel distribution terminal last week because of necessary Covid-19 isolations amongst staff. The terminal is now operating as normal once again.’

Cancel your wedding if you get pinged night before the big day, couples told

Couples should call off their weddings if they get pinged by the NHS app the night before they are due to get married, Downing Street insisted last night.

During an interview, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins urged the public to isolate when pinged.

When asked on LBC if this would mean people should stay at home if notified by the app on the night before their wedding, she replied: ‘Oh gosh, the guidance is ‘please, you must stay at home’.

‘That is a terribly, terribly difficult scenario.’

Later, when questioned if the Prime Minister agreed, his spokesman said: ‘Yes. We recognise that would be a difficult situation for anyone but the app is carrying out an important function. We know that one in three people contacted either by Test and Trace or by the app go on to develop coronavirus symptoms so that demonstrates the importance of people isolating when asked to do so.’

But couples who are pinged may struggle to claim on their insurance depending on their policy.

Boris Johnson apologised yesterday for the inconvenience caused by the so-called ‘pingdemic’ but insisted he will not fast-track changes due to come in on August 16 where those who have received both coronavirus vaccine doses will no longer have to isolate.

As he took part in Prime Minister’s Questions by video from Chequers – where he is in quarantine after Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive for Covid – he said: ‘I think that everybody understands the inconvenience of being pinged… here I am, I wish I was with you in the Commons chamber today.’ He added: ‘I must remind everybody that isolation is a vital tool of our defence against the disease.’ 

And M&S boss Steve Rowe said by the middle of August up to one in five – 20 per cent – of his workforce could be isolating at home. He said: ‘If there’s shortages we’ll have to manage it by changing hours of stores [and] reducing hours.’ 

Elsewhere other shops faced problems, with Tesco and Asda in Cambridge running out of household staples with lots of empty shelves at their stores this afternoon.

At Tesco there was a shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables, fridge food, water, beer and kitchen roll. Whilst Asda was short of bread, fruit and vegetables.

Today at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson apologised to businesses for the disruption they had experienced, but urged people to stick with the rules until they change because ‘isolation is a vital tool of our defence’.

‘I apologise to everybody in business up and down the land in all kinds of services, public sector or otherwise, who are experiencing inconvenience,’ he said.

But Sir Keir Starmer hit back accused Mr Johnson of ‘trying to dodge’ his own quarantine after his contact with Covid-positive Health Secretary Sajid Javid and highlighted inconsistencies in policy.

‘When it comes to creating confusion the Prime Minister is a superspreader,’ the Labour leader said, as he accused Mr Johnson of ushering in a ‘summer of chaos’.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng also faced urgent questions during a call with more than a dozen trade associations.

The ‘pretty animated’ conversations saw several business leaders leave unhappy after the MP tried to blame the app as a communication problem rather than a policy problem, according to the FT.

Today a third of the Dorset Police control room staff were off work after being notified by the NHS Covid app or Test & Trace to self-isolate or following a positive test – at the same time as 999 calls surged 20 per cent week on week.

Meanwhile the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland warned the public that call response times will rise due to the ‘pingdemic’.

Royal Mail has also seen an increase in absences due self-isolating staff, and this morning announced delays to deliveries in 10 parts of England.  

Mr Johnson has promised to exempt some essential workers from quarantine, but today British Meat Processors Association chief executive Nick Allen said the industry is not clear who will be included in this scheme. 

‘It was made very clear to us late yesterday that this exemption will be for very, very few people. They described it as setting the bar very, very high and we’re certainly not counting on that,’ he said.

Pubs and shops have complained about having to close because of the number of people being ‘pinged’ as contacts by the NHS Covid-19 app, while medics have also raised concerns.

The latest figures show more than 500,000 people in England and Wales were asked to isolate by the NHS app in the week up to July 1.

In response to a lack of staff, Thameslink and Southern announced a reduced timetable from Monday, publishing a list of affected routes online. 

Sliced cheese shelves empty at Morrisons at The Gyle, Edinburgh. In previous days BBQ items have also been in short supply – although that will be exacerbated by high demand due to the time of year 

A frozen section at a Sainsbury’s in Craigleith, Edinburgh. The images will raise concerns that staff shortages are leading to delays in replenishing product lines in supermarkets, although it is likely that many of these products are in higher demand in the summer

Fruit and veg stock at Hedge End Sainsburys near Southampton this afternoon, as shoppers complained of a lack of certain products 

A frozen section at a Morrisons in Manchester is seen cleared of products in a photo taken this afternoon 

Some fruit and vegetables were in short supply today at this Sainsbury’s in Hedge End near Southampton 

There have been reports that the government may excuse supermarket workers and HGV drivers from having to self-isolate if they are pinged by the Covid app. Pictured: Empty pizza shelves at a Morrisons in Granton, Edinburgh  

A frozen fruit and pastries section in Craigleith, Edinburgh, today amid similar scenes in other supermarkets across the UK 

This graph shows the proportion of Covid-positive cases who were not reached and asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace (red), and the total number of cases transferred (blue). Test and Trace missed 14 per cent of Covid-infected people in England two weeks ago, the most since the start of the second wave

Samuel Tombs, from consultants Pantheon Macroeconomics, estimated that after including confirmed cases, and taking into account the subsequent growth in infections, it was plausible that 1.77m people, or 2.7% of the population, were not self-isolating. 

The issue has hit the health service itself, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, saying many ambulance and acute hospital trusts were finding themselves ‘under extreme pressure’ because of a combination of ‘very high demand and very high levels of staff absence due to self-isolation’.  

The recent days have seen delays on the Tube, trains and the cancellation of bin collections.  

The latest play to be cancelled after losing cast members to self-isolation is Kenneth Branagh’s production of The Browning Version, the Financial Times reported.   

Mr Johnson resisted calls from businesses struggling to cope with reduced staffing levels by declining to introduce a more wide-reaching change to quarantine rules ahead of August 16, when a testing regime will replace the requirement for fully-vaccinated contacts to isolate.

The Prime Minister argued self-isolation is ‘one of the few shots we have got left in our locker’ as he scrapped most remaining legal restrictions in England on so-called ‘freedom day’ on Monday.

He suggested an exemption would cover some in hospitals and care homes, or working in the supply of food, electricity and medicines, and transport, defence and borders.

But the Government has said there is no ‘blanket exemption for any sector or role’ and decisions will be made largely on a case-by-case basis.

Royal Mail has also seen an increase in absences due to staff having to self-isolate, and this morning announced delays to deliveries in 10 parts of England

Hand sanitiser shelves almost empty at Morrisons at The Gyle, Edinburgh, in an image taken late this morning 

There were only two melons left at this Morrisons in Edinburgh, although the products had been in a promotion 

The government recently announced it would excuse some HGV drivers from self-isolating to relieve supply shortages. Pictured are bare shelves at a Morrisons in Bradford 

A fish section at a Tesco. The latest figures show more than 500,000 people in England and Wales were asked to isolate by the NHS app in the week up to July 1

Today a lorry driver complained about ‘pumps running dry’ at BP petrol stations – as the oil giant apologised and said the issue was due to a shortage of drivers 

A picture of bare shelves in a Sainsbury’s taken this week. Supermarkets are confident that low supplies of any particular products can be quickly replenished 

Shoppers have shared photos of gaps on the shelves at some supermarkets as the food supply chain was hit by a surge in self-isolating workers 

A shortage of HGV drivers in Britain – caused by a combination of Brexit and the pandemic – is affecting some businesses. Pictured is a photo of shelves in a Sainsbury’s this week 

Nearly one in four people has deleted or switched off the app – and millions more say they will refuse to isolate if ‘pinged’

West End, schools, pubs… pingdemic is rife

The pingdemic has had a significant impact on everyday life, hitting industry, entertainment, schools, travel and health services.

HOSPITALITY – Huge numbers of pubs and restaurants are shut across the country as staff have to isolate after being pinged. Out of the UK’s hospitality workforce of 1.9million, it is estimated 380,000 – one in five – are currently isolating with the figure expected to soar to 670,000 – one in three – later in the summer. Big name chains like Nando’s are closing some of restaurants or switching to takeaway.

The nation’s largest pub company, Stonegate, said 1,000 staff are off and 15 sites are closed. Pub group Mitchells & Butlers, which O’Neill’s and Harvester, has closed 40 properties temporarily while Greene King has shut 33. Rival pub chain Young’s reported 350 staff were isolating last week. Other affected businesses include London’s Ritz Hotel, cafe and bar chain Loungers and St Austell Brewery in Cornwall, Celebrity chef Tom Kerridge has closed his Michelin-starred pub The Coach in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, temporarily. Kate Nicholls, of UK Hospitality, said: We need a rapid and urgent overhaul of the self-isolation policy to make it fit for purpose.’

MANUFACTURING – The supply chain to leading manufacturers is teetering on the brink of collapse with a shortage of nearly 100,000 drivers who deliver equipment and parts to factories. The giant Nissan car base in Sunderland has reported staff shortages and the Vauxhall van factory in Luton has slashed shifts. Mike Hawes, of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: ‘Staff shortages are putting production at risk and undermining the sector’s recovery. Urgent action is needed.’

ENTERTAINMENT – Theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber has said the industry is ‘on its knees’ due to isolation rules. He was speaking after the opening two nights of his new show Cinderella, starring Carrie Hope Fletcher (pictured), were cancelled because some cast and crew members were told to isolate. He insisted the current system is ‘completely, completely untenable’. Other shows in London’s West End and elsewhere in the country have also been forced to cancel performances.

PETROL – Drivers are facing empty petrol pumps in many areas as deliveries are scaled back. Petrol giant BP said: ‘We are experiencing fuel availability issues at some of our retail sites in the UK. This is due to the industry-wide driver shortages across the UK, which have been exacerbated by necessary Covid-19 isolations amongst staff, impacting our supply chain.’

SCHOOLS – More than one million pupils were off school last week due to Covid rules. Many secondary and primary schools shut early for the summer because of mass absences. Some pupils had to isolate because just one member of their classroom ‘bubble’ tested positive. This has triggered a knock-on effect for working parents while youngsters have been robbed end-of-term events such as presentations, sports days or prom parties. Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the figures ‘bring a year of unprecedented educational disruption to a grim end’.

POST – Major Royal Mail centres in Plymouth, Swindon and Manchester failed to process letters and parcels as expected this week and other parts of the UK are being hit. The firm said: ‘Due to resourcing issues, associated self-isolation and safety measures, deliveries in some areas may be disrupted.’ It stressed that some mail centres had been affected by ‘very high levels of absence’.

TRAVEL – Passengers on West Midlands Railway services into Birmingham suffered cancellations because of isolating train drivers. Transport for Wales was hit by a string of rail cancellations this week and there were similar problems in Yorkshire and some London Tube services over the weekend. Bus services in many areas have also been disrupted. UK airports are worried that they will not be able to cope with a summer surge in travellers.

HEALTH – Patients are suffering stress and pain with the cancellation of services. One woman, who was waiting to give birth at Watford General Hospital in Hertfordshire, was told the centre had been shut for more than a week because ’30 members of staff have been pinged and told to self-isolate’. She said: ‘It’s just mayhem… they’ve got to get the NHS staff back quickly and stop all this ridiculous pinging stuff.’ 

Downing Street has declined to say how many people will be granted exemptions, but it is understood the figure is not expected to reach the high tens of thousands.

One executive said officials had suggested yesterday that they would take an ‘unbelievably hard line’ on exemptions as they sought to minimise the relief.

‘The mood might change if there are empty shelves over the weekend,’ he said. 

The deluge of absences at Dorset Police comes at a time of heightened demand for the emergency service, with calls to 101, the non-emergency number, up by 11 per cent from last week.

And the crisis is set to worsen – hundreds of thousands of families from outside the area are starting to flood into resorts like Bournemouth as the school holidays begin and temperatures remain balmy.

A spokesman said 35 per cent of control room staff are currently off because they Covid, coronavirus symptoms or are having to self-isolate following a request by the NHS Test and Trace app.

‘Significant work has been undertaken to mitigate the impact this is having on our service and many of those who are isolating are able to work from home and respond to non-urgent calls to service that are made via our digital channels,’ she said.

‘We are asking the public to help us further by using our online non-emergency channels where possible rather than calling 101.

‘Anyone calling 101 may have to wait some time before speaking to a call handler as our 999 service must remain our priority.

‘Please remember, only dial 999 in an emergency – when life is threatened, people are injured, offenders are nearby, or immediate action is required.

‘We would like to thank the public for their understanding and patience at this challenging time.’

Meanwhile Cleveland Police had to cancel rest days and annual leave for some officers, as well as bringing in others from different shifts, to fill gaps caused by staff having to self-isolate.

It was reported five officers were taken off duty and self-isolating in just one incident after they came into contact with a virus-positive prisoner.

Police and crime commissioner Steve Turner called on the Government to review the rules for emergency workers who are pinged.

He called for healthy emergency workers to be tested daily for coronavirus so they will not automatically be taken off frontline duties.

He told the BBC: ‘We have got to provide a service. We suddenly find ourselves cancelling rest days and cancelling leave and bringing officers in from other shifts to cover where we have got the gaps.

‘However, our call times will go up, we will miss some calls we would normally pick up because we have less resilience in the call centre and all of these things will have a knock-on effect for the Cleveland public.’

The force declined to say how many officers were off after being alerted by the Test and Trace app.

A spokesman said: ‘We’re seeing an increase in demand on requests for service due to the heatwave, restrictions being lifted and the school holidays.

‘We’re also seeing an increase in Covid-19 cases and self-isolation across the workforce which is having an impact on the front line.

‘We have put swift plans in place to ensure that we can respond to the most vulnerable in our communities and deal with 999 emergencies, however the public may experience delays in call answering for non-emergency incidents and we’re asking people to use the website to report or ask for advice if they are able.

‘For operational reasons we don’t provide the details of current levels of sickness as part of our overall strategy to keep the public safe from interested criminals.’  

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