UK supermarkets are under “increasing pressure” to keep shelves fully stocked, retail leaders have warned, as the havoc caused by the tracking app amid rising infections force thousands of workers to self-isolate [“pingdemia”] .
Shops in some areas suffer from shortages and companies in sectors ranging from gas stations to the postal service are affected by absences, so the Government is being asked to include supermarket personnel, truck drivers and other workers front-line among people exempt from self-isolation rules.
The Government has announced that some sectors will be able to request exemptions for personnel, which will allow essential workers who are identified by the application to return to work after doing a PCR test and daily rapid tests, instead of having to quarantine for 10 days.
However, the Executive has not yet published the list of sectors that can participate in the plan and there will not be a list of essential workers exempt from automatic self-isolation, but the exemptions will be studied on a case-by-case basis.
Since the number of people expected to be granted exemptions is relatively small, employers are concerned and frustrated that thousands of workers will continue to be quarantined when the app alerts them.
Andrew Opie, director of food at the British Retail Consortium, says the staff shortage could affect opening hours and stocking the shelves.
“The current ‘pingdemic’ is putting increasing pressure on retailers’ ability to keep opening hours and shelves stocked. The government must act quickly,” says Opie. “Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be able to work as long as they are vaccinated or can show a negative test to ensure there are no disruptions in the supply of food and other. products”.
The Iceland supermarket chain intends to hire 2,000 replacement employees to help cover the casualties. The retailer has said it has been forced to cut working hours and even close some stores as it suffered from a staffing shortage caused by workers receiving notifications from the health system (NHS) test and trace app.
Iceland director Richard Walker says some outlets have been forced to close after more than 1,000 workers – just over 3% of the group’s total – were asked to isolate themselves after receiving a notification from the app .
Walker says the problems varied from one center to another – some stores were experiencing vacancy rates much higher than others – while the number of people who had to isolate themselves was “growing by about 50% week after week and that was really alarming. “.
Walker has called on the government to urgently adjust the application or self-isolation rules in light of the changes scheduled for August 16. “Supermarkets have to focus on feeding the nation, not writing to government departments,” he says. The director maintains that around 96% of the people tipped off by the tracking app who worked for Iceland did not test positive for COVID-19.
It was also reported on social media that supermarkets in some areas had run out of basic supplies such as milk, eggs, bread and rice.
Tesco said it had run out of bottled water in its warehouses, while Co-op said supplies in “a vast majority” of its stores had been disrupted “due to the impact of Covid / isolation from colleagues.”
“This is a short-term but significant impact that has affected our ability to supply stores. These issues are affecting a large majority of Co-op stores,” said a company spokesperson.
The Daily Telegraph has also reported that police forces across the country were being affected. In Dorset, a third of the control room staff were on leave after receiving one of these alerts or having tested positive.
Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Steve Turner warned the public to expect longer response times to calls. “Suddenly we find ourselves with the cancellation of the rest days and the cancellation of the permits, and with the incorporation of agents from other shifts to cover the gaps. However, our call times will increase, we will lose some calls that we would normally pick up because we have less resilience in the call center. ”
The warnings come as the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) says that some plants had already suffered a staff shortage of up to 16% even without the impact of the tracking app.
Besides the underlying shortage of workersSome members have informed us that between 5% and 10% of their staff have been “flagged” by the application and have been asked to quarantine, “says BMPA CEO Nick Allen.
The worker shortage affects meat products that require more labor to produce, meaning those lines will be the first to be cut back.
The problem of self-isolation adds to the shortage of couriers, especially truck drivers, caused by a mix of Brexit, COVID-19 and changes in tax rules.
Oil company BP says the industry-wide shortage of truckers is causing temporary fuel supply problems that have led to the temporary closure of some of its UK stations. Last week, the oil giant’s supply chain was also affected by the closure of a fuel distribution terminal due to COVID-19 isolations among staff last week.
However, BP told the BBC that the “vast majority” of the shortages were “resolved in one day.”
Royal Mail said that, in a “limited number of areas”, services were disrupted due to absences related to COVID-19.
Major retailers say absenteeism rates currently stand at around 10%, much lower than at the height of the pandemic last spring, but difficult to manage as certain stores and product categories are out of order. most affected.
Some stores have up to 30% of staff on leave, with the North East and North West of England being the hardest hit, while key deliveries in certain parts of the country have also been hit.
Increased demand for fresh fruit, salads and other hot-weather staples, triggered by the sudden heat wave, has also compounded the difficulties. Unusually high demand in vacation destination areas has also led to shortages, as delivery systems struggle to keep up.
Translated by Javier Biosca