An emergency government plan to prevent the “pingdemic” blow from food supplies has fallen into chaos, with industry leaders condemning the scheme as an “absolute disaster” that has done more harm than good.
As train services were also disrupted on Saturday by a number of isolating workers, airports reported long queues at passport controls and the hospitality industry warned of a summer of closures, Downing St defied rising calls to bring forward a complete relaxation. of quarantine rules from the scheduled date for 16 August.
In an effort to prevent empty supermarket shelves and avoid wider economic damage, ministers bowed last Thursday to continued pressure from the food industry, announcing that about 10,000 workers in the sector would be exempt from the rules if tested negative on a daily basis. Others in key sectors of the economy and vital public services are also included in the emergency plan.
But some food industry leaders in charge of the supply chain told spotter the masses were ill-treated and poorly communicated to the point of exacerbating the crisis.
James Bielby, of the Federation of Wholesale Distribution (FWD), which supplies food to outlets other than supermarkets, said the industry still had no idea who was actually on the list of excluded groups. Of the 500 alleged businesses involved, only 3% were notified.
“It’s total chaos. There are 15 businesses that were part of the start-up [of the scheme] “On Friday, but it is supposed to have 500 businesses in total, it is completely dark,” he said.
Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, the organization representing companies moving frozen and chilled foods, said: “A few days after the prime minister told us the food supply chain was critical and would be excluded, we still do not have a final list of who will be excluded and what is required of them.Businesses are struggling to keep food on the shelves, and I’m sorry that despite the best intentions in some countries, the government has done more harm than good.
“We are living day by day. Those businesses that can work are doing their best. But no one feels safe predicting what will happen tomorrow and very few have confidence that those in charge have control of the situation. ”
The sense of confusion and crisis has completely overshadowed the government’s efforts to open up the economy since the so-called Freedom Day last Monday, which was supposed to mark a return to something close to normal after 16 months of Covid restrictions.
Instead, more than a million people spent the first week of “freedom” self-isolation – threatening food shortages, transportation chaos and widespread disruption during the summer holiday period.
The chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation, Richard Harrow, said the ministers did not understand how the catering industry worked: “It shows that again the government does not understand how connected the food supply chain is. Only the first part is unlikely to resolve the overall issue. ”
Former health secretary and chairman of the elected Municipal Health and Care Committee, Jeremy Hunt, warned the government that it was in danger of “losing social consent” to self-isolation if it did not immediately bring wider relaxation of quarantine rules. .
But the British Medical Association said the problem was not the “excessive pinging” of the NHS Covid-19 app but that the government’s coronavirus strategy had caused “round cases”. His council chairman, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said the isolation numbers were “a direct result of the lack of effective measures by the government that is allowing the virus to be released nationwide”.
However, case numbers have begun to fall. Saturday’s figure was 31,795 – the seventh in a row in which daily cases were below the last high of 54,674. So far, scientists are not sure if it means the peak has passed, or if the numbers will rise again as more people take off their masks and give up social distancing after “freedom day”.
Bielby added that although he had repeatedly asked the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for more clarity since the exemptions were announced last Thursday, his organization was no longer wise until yesterday. “They do not really know at the moment, the scheme was completely done on the hoof, in flight. “They did not think well of it,” he said.
Bielby also rejected a separate government system set up to allow employers to obtain self-isolation exemptions for their core staff. An Defra email address, he said, was set up to allow employers to lobby for exemptions for staff that was embedded. “If you get stuck at night and go to work the next day, the idea of telling your boss to email a phone line and get a timely response to start the morning shift is simply absolutely “Funny,” he said.
Other business groups across some sectors called on ministers to extend the exemptions. Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said she saw a joint effort to vaccinate young people and help workers in the hospitality industry avoid self-isolation when they test negative, pubs and bars will be forced to close in the peak season.
“The NHS Test & Trail is a big deal for our pubs. Pubs are now closing or greatly reducing their opening hours due to staff-induced staff shortages – despite negative staff testing in side-flow tests, “she said.” Forty-three percent of pub staff they are aged 18-25, which means they are in the back row for vaccines and will not have their second stroke in months. “We urge the government to work with us to find a reasonable solution to this that ensures staff and customer safety.”
As ministers plan to extend the exclusion scheme to more key workers, including police, firefighters and the freight transport sector, with 200 more probationary jobs in the workplace being set up, a senior government source said he had no plans to bring forward August 16th.
Noise from food industry leaders and others about the need for workers who are stuck by the NHS Covid app to self-isolate increased as data from the Office for National Statistics showed that Covid-19 cases had continued to rise, with about one in 75 people in England infected. Positive number testing estimates – 741,700 – in the week to July 17 is the highest since the week of January 30th.