Covid-19 testing rolled out to support food industry

It comes as retail bosses urged shoppers not to stockpile.

Empty shelves
Empty shelves

The food industry will be prioritised as part of new targeted coronavirus testing for certain workplaces.

Daily testing will be rolled out to critical workplaces in the food supply chain to free up contacts who would otherwise be self-isolating.

It comes as retail bosses urged shoppers not to stockpile and said there is “plenty of food” as supermarkets face a “perfect storm” of self-isolating workers and prior staff shortages.

Supermarkets such as the Co-op said they are seeing availability issues with some products, but stressed that shortages are “patchy” across stores.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that at a meeting with supermarket leaders the Government committed to actions to support the resilience of the food supply chain.

Defra said supermarket leaders downplayed fears of shortages, saying problems were not widespread.

Priority testing sites have already been identified with industry for urgent implementation this week, including the largest supermarket distribution centres, with rollout to up to 500 sites to start next week.

The move means all workers who have received an NHS Covid 19 app alert to isolate or have been called by Test and Trace will be able to continue working if they test negative.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Food businesses across the country have been the hidden heroes of the pandemic.

“We are working closely with industry to allow staff to go about their essential work safely with daily testing.

“The last 18 months have demonstrated that we have a highly resilient food supply chain. There are sufficient food supplies in the system and people can and should shop as normal.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Throughout this global pandemic, workers in our food and drink sectors have overcome enormous challenges and done everything they can to keep our shelves stocked and our fridges full.

“As we manage this virus and do everything we can to break chains of transmission, daily contact testing of workers in this vital sector will help to minimise the disruption caused by rising cases in the coming weeks, while ensuring workers are not put at risk.”

Defra said self-isolation is an essential tool for suppressing the transmission of the virus.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

The department said people who have been identified as contacts are at least five times more likely to be infected with Covid-19 than other members of the public.

It added that vaccines are highly effective at reducing the risk of serious illness, hospital admission and death, and said it is encouraging everyone to have a jab.

Defra pointed out that even people who are fully vaccinated may still become infected, including with asymptomatic infection, potentially passing the disease on to others.

Earlier on Thursday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said a “very narrow” list of sectors whose workers will be exempt from isolation rules would be published.

He said he would not “pre-empt” the details when asked if the food industry would be on it.

Grocers have also said a shortage of HGV drivers and the hot weather were contributing to delivery glitches.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “We welcome the Government’s rapid response to this unfolding ‘pingdemic’, which has impacted shops and distribution centres.

“Retailers are working closely with Government to identify hundreds of key distribution sites that will benefit from the new daily contact testing scheme.

“It is absolutely vital that Government makes up for lost time and rolls out this new scheme as fast as possible.

“Disruption is limited at the moment, and retailers are monitoring the situation closely.

“Government will need to continue to listen to the concerns of the retail industry in the coming days and must be prepared to take further action if necessary.”

Earlier in the day, she said shop supplies were holding up but Government action was needed immediately to avoid further empty shelves.

She said issues had been caused by a “perfect storm” of “summer labour shortages in the lead-up to the reopening of the economy… and more and more people being asked to self-isolate”.

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