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England faces weeks of ‘pingdemic’ disruption to services and food supply | Coronavirus

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England faces weeks of disruption in bin collection, transport and food supply due to staff self-isolation, businesses and boards have warned, as the Aug. 16 date for lifting the quarantine for double vaccinated could be delayed.

Number 10 struggled to put in place a system on Friday that would allow more key workers to take daily tests rather than isolate themselves for 10 days, fearing that large parts of the economy would shut down. cause of the so-called “pingdemia”.

Ministers initially said there would be only a narrow definition of critical workers allowed to be routinely exempt from quarantine, with around 10,000 workers at 500 food distribution sites and some NHS and social service workers allowed to take daily tests instead of isolation.

But on Friday night, the government was considering expanding the exemption regime, as railway bosses and boards warned of cutting services due to high numbers of isolating staff.

The Scottish government on Friday announced its own program for key workers which will allow companies to apply for permission to exempt those working in critical roles and where staff shortages could compromise essential services.

Some companies are reporting the absence of 15-20% of their staff because workers have to self-isolate for 10 days either with Covid or as close contact of a confirmed case. More than 800,000 people in the UK had coronavirus last week and more than 600,000 in England and Wales have had to self-isolate by the NHS app.

Despite being the first to benefit from exemptions, several food industry groups and leaders have said the government is not acting quickly enough to tell companies their workers are exempt as no list has yet been issued. published and many companies not sure if they would be included in the new daily testing schedule by the end of the day on Friday.

The British Meat Processors Association said the government urgently needs to release more information giving “clear and unambiguous advice on which sites are exempt, which positions are eligible for the exemption and exactly how these new rules will be applied.” .

“Our fear is that if infections continue to increase at the current rate, there will be so many non-exempt workers taken out of the system that regardless of those ‘key sites’ protected, the rest of the supply chain around. ‘them will start failing,’ the group said.

Richard Harrow, managing director of the British Frozen Food Federation, called the current situation “worse than unnecessary” with confusion “continuing to reign”.

Some members of the food industry also suspected last night that the government’s essential worker exemption system would not be ready by August 16., casting doubt on No.10’s real intention to allow doubly vaccinated people to escape isolation from that date. As it stands, the new exemption system will only have to apply for the next three weeks.

George Eustice, the Secretary of the Environment, hinted that the August 16 deadline could be pushed back on Friday, as he said the government had only announced the date to give people “some sort of indication” of when where the rules might change and added that he could still move “both ways.” However, No 10 sources insisted the government “is still working around that date.”

Source No.10 described the three-day decline in the number of cases as an early encouraging sign, with 39,906 Covid cases and 84 more deaths on Friday. But the situation was still critical in parts of the country, with additional testing and public health support announced for seven local authorities in Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and County Durham, and five local authorities in the Tees Valley.

With most critical workers outside the health and food sectors still required to adhere to isolation rules until at least August 16, railways and boards have warned that services should be cut.

Companies with key workers in 16 sectors are also allowed to apply directly to government departments for isolation exemptions for appointees, but this will only be granted in serious and exceptional circumstances involving “a major detrimental impact on delivery. of essential “or” significant “services. impact on national security, national defense or the functioning of the state ”.

The Rail Delivery Group, which represents rail operators, said if companies strive to “minimize any disruption, there could be an impact on services” and the Department of Transport (DfT) said it had accepted reduced hours. Transport for London said the Circle Line and Hammersmith and City Line of the London Underground would be closed over the weekend due to the self-isolation of more than 300 employees.

The Local Government Association, representing councils across England, said some councils are already having to shut down their services due to staff shortages caused by the so-called ‘pingemia’.

A local government source said garbage collection, libraries, park maintenance, street cleaning and pothole maintenance could all be affected in the next three weeks, before August 16. , when the isolation requirements are lifted.

James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, called on the government to urgently clarify what boards and employers should do if they wish to seek exemptions for their essential workers, and whether public health directors might have powers.

“Residents will have to support us if they experience disruption in certain services, if councils are forced to prioritize services that protect the most vulnerable in their communities,” he said.

Luke Pollard, shadow secretary for the environment, said the security of the food supply is fundamental and that empty shelves “show the system is failing.”

“The government has caused this chaos by recklessly releasing all restrictions on both the Johnson variant, pressing the accelerator while throwing the seat belt off,” he said.

“It is true that some essential workers in the food supply sector may be exempt if they are fully vaccinated and, most importantly, tested daily – but we need to be careful given the soaring rate of transmission.

“Labor has warned against removing all restrictions in one go and we want to see a return of mandatory face masks in stores and continued workplace testing. Rushed plan ministers have now issued appearances like a bureaucratic nightmare for business, while unlikely to be enough. They have the right to be mad.

The government told companies they needed to get in touch with their relevant government departments if they wanted the named key workers to be excused, with an email address provided so they could contact them. But a company involved in contacting the Food, Environment and Rural Affairs Ministry said it was mired in bureaucracy, with officials demanding extremely complicated details before requests for exemptions were made. taken into account.

A source at Defra said five major supermarkets had already been contacted to say they could start switching to a daily Covid testing regimen for staff, with testing centers operating at 15 of the most critical sites. A spokesperson said: “We have not released the list of priority companies at this stage to protect business interests. The sites are being contacted in the coming days.

However, industry groups have said many companies have yet to be contacted and the system is not expected to be fully operational until next week at the earliest, raising fears of more empty shelves in stores across the country. feed during the weekend.


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