'Pingdemic' puts Britain's food supply under strain

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New York Post 22 July, 2021 - 09:37am 7 views

July 22, 2021 | 10:37am | Updated July 22, 2021 | 10:37am

LONDON — British supermarkets said on Thursday that some products were in short supply and petrol stations had been forced to close after the official health app told hundreds of thousands of workers to isolate following contact with someone with COVID-19.

British newspapers carried front-page pictures of empty shelves in supermarkets, declaring a “pingdemic.”

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News the government was “very concerned” about the situation but that he did not recognize the network’s characterization of “bare” supermarket shelves.

With cases rising to nearly 50,000 day in the United Kingdom, hundreds of thousands of people have been advised — or “pinged” — by the National Health Service’s contact-tracing app to isolate for 10 days.

The drastic reduction in staffing that has resulted has sown chaos through sectors as diverse as food supplies, haulage, supermarkets, hospitality, manufacturing and media. To avoid disruption, many people have deleted the app from their phones.

Sainsbury’s, Britain’s second largest grocer, said customers may not be able to find the exact product they want.

“Large quantities of products are being delivered to stores daily and our colleagues are focused on getting them onto the shelves as quickly as they can,” a spokesperson said.

Retailer Iceland said it had closed a number of stores due to staff shortages. BP said it had to temporarily close a handful of petrol stations due to a lack of fuel, with a shortage of HGV drivers exacerbated by COVID-19 isolations.

One meat industry body said on Wednesday that food supply chains were “right on the edge of failing” as absences related to COVID-19 had aggravated an already-critical shortage of labor.

Official data showed the app had told nearly 620,000 people to isolate in England and Wales in the week up to July 14.

Government ministers say it plays an important role in countering the spread of the virus, which has killed about 129,000 people in Britain — the seventh highest toll in the world. They have allowed some workers in critical roles to carry on working, even when “pinged.”

Infections have been rising sharply in Britain for several weeks. But a vaccination program that has seen 88% of adults receive one vaccine dose and more than 69% two doses appears to have weakened the link between infections and deaths, with daily fatalities remaining relatively low.

Read full article at New York Post

Over 600,000 people told to isolate by NHS app

Sky News 22 July, 2021 - 06:02pm

'Pingdemic' grips Britain as fears of food shortages grow

Thomson Reuters Foundation 22 July, 2021 - 06:02pm

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) contact tracing smartphone app of Britain's National Health Service (NHS) is displayed on an iPhone in this illustration photograph taken in Keele, Britain, September 24, 2020. REUTERS/Carl Recine/Illustration

* British minister: We're concerned about 'pingdemic'

* Food supplies could fail, meat industry says

* Iceland closes some stores due to staff shortages

* Sainsbury's says customers may not get exact product they want

* BP says some sites temporarily closed due to lack of fuel (Adds Sainsbury's, BP comment)

By Guy Faulconbridge and James Davey

LONDON, July 22 (Reuters) - Britain's supermarkets, wholesalers and hauliers were struggling on Thursday to ensure stable food and fuel supplies after an official health app told hundreds of thousands of workers to isolate after contact with someone with COVID-19.

Coronavirus cases in Britain have been broadly rising for a month, with more than 44,000 recorded on Wednesday.

British newspapers carried front-page pictures of empty shelves in supermarkets. Reuters reporters said food items were widely available in London shops although there were some shortages of bottled water, soft drinks, and some salad and meat products.

"We're very concerned about the situation," Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky when asked about reports of empty supermarket shelves in some areas. "We're monitoring the situation."

He said he did not recognise Sky's characterisation of "bare" supermarket shelves.

Britain's second-largest supermarket group Sainsbury's said customers would generally be able to find the products they want, though perhaps not every brand.

"We are working hard to ensure customers can find what they need," said a Sainsbury's spokesperson.

"While we might not always have the exact product a customer is looking for in every store, large quantities of products are being delivered to stores daily and our colleagues are focused on getting them onto the shelves as quickly as they can."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's bet that he could reopen England's economy because so many people have been vaccinated has been tarnished by the "pingdemic" in which people have been told by the contact-tracing app to isolate for 10 days.

The drastic reduction in staffing that has resulted has sown chaos through sectors as diverse as food supplies, haulage, supermarkets, hospitality, manufacturing and media. To avoid disruption, many have simply deleted the app from their phones.

British ministers say the app plays an important role in countering the spread of the virus and has allowed some workers in critical roles to carry on working.

The country has the world's seventh-highest COVID-19 death toll and record new infections are forecast following the July 19 lifting of restrictions in England, characterised by Johnson as "freedom day".

But a rapid vaccination programme that has seen 87% of adults receive one vaccine dose and more than 68% two doses appears to have weakened the link between infections and deaths, with daily fatalities remaining relatively low.

Many businesses said the situation was becoming grave.

Britain's food supply chains are "right on the edge of failing" as absence related to COVID-19 has aggravated a critical shortage of labour, a meat industry body said on Wednesday.

Supermarket group Iceland said it has closed a number of stores due to staff shortages.

"We have a structural issue with (a shortage of) HGV drivers for a variety of different reasons, but of course the pingdemic has made it even worse," Managing Director Richard Walker told ITV. "We are starting to see some availability issues."

Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at industry lobby group, the British Retail Consortium, said the government needed to act swiftly.

"Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double vaccinated or can show a negative COVID test, to ensure there is no disruption to the public's ability to get food and other goods," he said.

BP said it had to temporarily close a handful of sites due to a lack of fuel, with the shortage of HGV drivers being exacerbated by COVID-19 isolations. (Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and James Davey; Editing by Kate Holton and Catherine Evans)

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‘Pinged’ food supply workers freed from Covid quarantine

Evening Standard 22 July, 2021 - 05:15pm

The move – along with a limited relaxation of self-isolation rules in other key sectors of the economy and vital public services – came as Boris Johnson faced mounting warnings about the impact of the “pingdemic”.

Under the plan to keep supermarket shelves stocked, daily testing will be offered as an alternative to self-isolation in important links in the food supply chain.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “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.”

Retail bosses urged shoppers not to stockpile and said there is plenty of food, but businesses are being hit as staff are “pinged” by the app or contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

Priority testing sites – including the largest supermarket distribution centres – have already been identified for urgent implementation this week, with hundreds more planned next week.

The move means 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.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, welcomed the new measure but said ministers must be prepared to take further action if necessary.

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

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

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “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.”

The need for urgent action was underlined as the latest figures showed a record number of people in England and Wales were “pinged” as contacts by the app and told to self-isolate for up to 10 days.

NHS figures showed 618,903 alerts were sent to users of the coronavirus app in the week to July 14, a period before England’s restrictions were lifted and more social contact was allowed.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Government risks “losing social consent” for isolation if it does not immediately bring forward the relaxation of quarantine rules for the fully vaccinated.

People in England who are fully vaccinated will not have to self-isolate if identified as a contact from August 16, nearly a month after restrictions on social mixing were lifted and at a time when cases have soared.

Alongside the measures to protect food supplies, the Government published guidance on Thursday night setting out limited exemptions for other critical workers.

Employees providing critical services would only be able to keep working and avoid self-isolation after being identified as a contact if they were named on a list kept updated by officials.

The exemptions – mainly in 16 sectors including essential transport, the emergency services and energy industry – will allow people identified as contacts by NHS Test and Trace or the app to carry on working if their failure to do so would have a “major detrimental impact” or risk national security.

The policy only applies to named workers who are fully vaccinated and it is not a “blanket exemption” for all employees in a sector – for instance, while railway signal operators on whom the network depends may be given an exemption, individual train drivers are unlikely to be.

Hannah Essex, from the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “While the announcement of a process which may exempt select critical workers from self-isolation in England will be a relief to some businesses, it will leave many more still facing critical staff shortages and lost revenue as the number of people being asked to isolate remains high.”

Confederation of British Industry director general Tony Danker said: “The current approach to self-isolation is closing down the economy rather than opening it up.”

Businesses have already exhausted contingency plans to get in extra staff and are “at risk of grinding to a halt in the next few weeks”, he said.

Meanwhile, officials announced a further 39,906 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK and that an additional 84 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.

Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B) -, which advises the Government, told BBC’s Newsnight: “I wish we’d stop talking about the ‘pingdemic’ because the ‘pings’ actually tell you that there’s a problem so you can do something about it.

“The problem is people being in contact with those who are infected because so many people are infected.

“The issue in the end is: what are we going to do about that level of infections?”

COVID-19 infections at record levels for 20 to 29-year-olds in England

Sky News 22 July, 2021 - 03:26pm

The latest Public Health England surveillance report on the coronavirus found that, for the week to 18 July, there were 1,154.7 cases per 100,000 in this cohort.

According to PHE: "This is the highest case rate recorded, since mass testing began, in the pandemic for any age group".

Currently, 58.4% of 18 to 24-year-olds and 58.9% of 25 to 29-year-olds have had a first jab, while only 17.2% and 21.8% respectively have had two doses of a COVID vaccine as of 18 July.

Among those aged 80 and over, there is a rate of just 60.6 infections per 100,000 people, while 93.3% had been fully vaccinated.

Following the news, Dr Yvonne Doyle, the medical director of Public Health England, reiterated calls for young people to get their jabs.

"We all still have a part to play, COVID-19 has not gone away," she said.

"Case rates in people aged 20 to 29 are at the highest across any age group recorded since the pandemic began.

"Everyone in this age group should come forward and get their two doses of the vaccine to make sure they have the best chance of being protected."

The seven-day case rate increased in all parts of England in the week to 18 July, with the North East highest at 951.7 per 100,000, and the South East lowest at 423.1 per 100,000.

The number of serious respiratory infections - indicating suspected COVID outbreaks - rose from 641 in the previous week to 721, while hospital admission rates rose from 4.55 per 100,000 people to 5.88 per 100,000 people.

The highest hospitalisation rate was recorded in the North East, where it is at 13.24 per 100,000 people.

Age-wise, hospitalisations are highest in those aged 85 and over.

Vaccines are said to have averted 52,600 hospitalisations directly, according to the report, and prevented between 35,200 and 38,600 deaths.

Between 11 million and 12.5 million infections are also thought to have been avoided thanks to the jabs.

Dr Doyle added: "It is vital we all remain cautious. Remember that meeting outside is safer than inside, get two doses of the vaccine as soon as you can, isolate if you are told to by NHS Test and Trace and if you show symptoms stay home and get a PCR test.

"Thanks to the vaccine, hospital admissions and deaths are not growing as quickly as previous waves. However, they are on the rise and we continue to closely monitor the data."

It comes after 607,486 people were pinged by the NHS COVID-19 app in the week to 14 July in England.

Roughly 428,000 more people were told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace contact traces.

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While nearly seven in 10 adults have the protection of two jabs, currently all of those are required to self-isolate if told to by NHS Test and Trace.

This follows the easing of coronavirus restrictions on Monday.

Covid: Supermarkets say shortages are not widespread

BBC News 22 July, 2021 - 12:05pm

The Co-op said it was "running low on some products", while Iceland said shops might have to be shut.

Sainsbury's said it "might not always" have the exact products people wanted, but downplayed fears of shortages saying the problem was not widespread.

Iceland also urged shoppers not to panic buy, saying it was not necessary.

The Co-op said items such as soft drinks, personal care products such as deodorant and beer were worst affected.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the government was "concerned about instances of shortages".

"I don't want people to get the impression that every shelf in every supermarket is bare - that is not the case but we are certainly concerned about instances of shortages, we are looking at the supply chains of critical industries and we are reviewing that situation," he added.

A record 618,903 people in England and Wales were "pinged" by the NHS Covid app in the week to 14 July.

Supermarkets and other sectors, including hospitality and transport, have said growing numbers of staff have been affected which means they have to self-isolate for 10 days. Some companies have reduced opening hours to cope with the staff shortages or shut parts of the business.

Firms want people who have been doubly vaccinated or have daily tests to be able to return to work.

Mr Kwarteng said that the government would publish guidance later on which sectors would be exempt, although he declined to comment on whether it would include the food industry.

Many of Thursday's newspapers carried pictures of empty shelves in some supermarket branches - with some describing panic buying of certain items - but industry sources told the BBC that so far, food shortages were not a systemic problem.

Iceland's managing director, Richard Walker, said photographs of empty shelves in supermarkets were "isolated incidents".

It is understood that Tesco is experiencing low availability across a small number of products due to the rise in the number of workers self-isolating as well as the industry-wide shortage of HGV drivers.

Meanwhile, the Co-op said it was being hit "by some patchy disruption to our deliveries and store operations".

"We are working closely with our suppliers to get re-stocked quickly," it added.

It is understood that items such as soft drinks, personal care products such as deodorant and beer are worst affected.

Lidl said the rise in numbers of employees having to self-isolate was starting to hit operations, but it was working to minimise disruption.

About 1,000 Iceland employees - almost 4% of its staff - are currently absent for Covid-related reasons, with the north of England most affected.

Of these, 27% have tested positive for Covid, while 64% have been "pinged" by the NHS Covid app and told to isolate.

Iceland is recruiting 2,000 temporary staff to help with the shortages while the Co-op will take on 3,000 extra workers.

Waitrose, which is part of the John Lewis Partnership, said: "We're working through the same challenges that all supermarkets are facing right now.

"As always, our focus is on maintaining the best possible range of products and high levels of service for our customers."

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said the increasing number of workers being told to isolate was "putting increasing pressure on retailers' ability to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked".

A fall in the number of available HGV drivers, exacerbated by the rising numbers being forced to isolate, was also "resulting in minor disruption to some supply chains", the BRC's Andrew Opie said.

The Road Haulage Association estimates there is a shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers in the UK due to workers returning to Europe following Brexit as well as delays in testing hauliers for Covid.

Meanwhile, the British Meat Processors Association said some members were seeing between 5% and 10% of their workforce "pinged" by the app.

Under current self-isolation rules in England, anyone who is traced as a close contact of a confirmed positive case must isolate for 10 days, whether or not they have received both doses of a vaccine.

If someone is told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace they are legally obliged to do so.

But if someone is "pinged" by the NHS Covid app the requirement to self-isolate is only advisory.

Andrew Selley, chief executive of Bidfood UK, which supplies produce to hospitals, care home and prisons as well as restaurants, said it was asking workers who have been "pinged" to come back to work after they have taken a negative PCR test.

"We have a process of doing lateral flow tests daily away from their workplace and if that is negative then they can proceed with their work," Mr Selley said.

But Mr Kwarteng told the BBC: "The rules are clear and I think they should be followed."

Earlier this week, the government announced a "small number" of fully vaccinated critical workers, including health and care staff, would be allowed to continue to do their job even if they were a close contact of someone who had tested positive for Covid.

The prime minister has said he does not want to extend the exemption too widely in order to limit the spread of the virus.

The government has argued it is necessary to keep isolation rules largely unchanged until 16 August.

From that date, people who are fully vaccinated and under-18s will be able to avoid self-isolating by taking daily Covid tests.

Dozens of councils across England have also been forced to suspend bin collections due to staff self-isolating.

On Wednesday, BP said lorry driver shortages and isolating staff had caused fuel supply issues at some of its petrol stations.

The oil firm said shortages of unleaded petrol and diesel had seen a "handful" of its UK sites close temporarily.

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Britain fears labor shortages due to 'pingdemic'

The Week Magazine 22 July, 2021 - 08:30am

The U.K. is facing a so-called "pingdemic" as hundreds of thousands of people are being told to self-isolate after being in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. 

Between July 8 and July 15, over 600,000 people using the NHS' COVID-19 app received alerts telling them to self-isolate for up to 10 days, BBC News reports. Now, "the drastic reduction in staffing that has resulted has sown chaos through sectors as diverse as food supplies, haulage, supermarkets, hospitality, manufacturing and media," Reuters reports. According to Axios, the supermarket group Iceland said it had to close a number of stores because of staff shortages. 

"We have a structural issue with [a shortage of] HGV drivers for a variety of different reasons, but of course the 'pingdemic' has made it even worse," Iceland managing director Richard Walker said, referencing the British term for truck drivers, per Axios. "We are starting to see some availability issues." 

Amid reports of empty store shelves, a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that "we're aware of the impact on some industries and services and working closely with them particularly food and supermarkets," but that "we have a robust and resilient food supply chain," per BBC News. Johnson, who lifted COVID-19 restrictions on July 19, recently went into isolation himself due to a COVID-19 contact.

"If you are pinged, you should self-isolate," Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told BBC. "I know it poses challenges, and we are seeing reports of shortages which we are monitoring, but the rules are clear and I think they should be followed." 

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

Daily Mail 22 July, 2021 - 01:34am

By Martin Robinson, Chief Reporter For Mailonline

A record 1.3million Covid self-isolation alerts were sent out across England last week, according to official NHS statistics that today laid bare the true scale of the 'pingdemic' chaos which has engulfed the country.

Supermarkets have urged Britons not to panic buy toilet roll, pasta, bottled water and wine amid an epidemic of empty shelves across the country, and ministers are facing calls to bring in the Army to shore up the supply of food.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng today admitted he is 'concerned' about food supply issues but urged shoppers not to 'panic buy' and said he 'can't guarantee' the self-isolation crisis won't continue beyond August 16 — when quarantine rules are due to be dropped for the fully-vaccinated.     

And he revealed the Government will U-turn and rush out a list of industries allowed to ignore the alerts — less than 48 hours after Downing Street insisted there would not be one.

As retailers begged for staff and delivery drivers to be made exempt from self-isolating when 'pinged', Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Commons defence committee, said today: 'The urgency of staff shortages now impacting on supermarkets and by extension national food distribution warrants a Cobra meeting today for which the deployment of the Army to assist in HGV driver shortfall should be a last resort option considered'. 

Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan told the Evening Standard: 'I am increasingly concerned about our ability to maintain current levels of absolutely crucial services like public transport, food supplies and bin collections.'

But Mr Kwarteng told LBC Radio: 'As far as I know we're not looking at bringing in troops.'  

A record 600,000 alerts were sent to users of the NHS Covid-19 app in England in the week to July 14, telling them they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus.  

Covid cases were increasing by about a third in England last week, which suggests many people have deleted the app to avoid having to isolate.  Typically, the number of people 'pinged' by the app each week has risen in line with infections.

There has been mounting pressure for weeks on the government to tweak the sensitivity of the app or make exemptions for key workers and fully vaccinated Britons following warnings that it could lead to food shortages and major disruptions as the epidemic grows.  

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

One shopper at Lidl in Mirfield West Yorkshire told MailOnline the situation was an 'utter joke' and felt like the start of the 2020 lockdown, describing 'empty freezers, hardly any wine and virtually no detergent', adding: 'Next there will be rationing'. 

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 with 1,000 of his staff - one in 20 - among the 1.7million Britons currently stuck at home. 

UK supermarkets are in the midst of a perfect storm of staff and stock problems with tens of thousands of workers self-isolating because of the 'pingdemic'. 

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.

It came as businesses, including one of Britain's largest food distribution firms, Bidfood, began taking the crisis into their own hands and began advising workers who are pinged by the NHS app to take tests and continue working rather than stay at home for up to ten days as the Government suggests.

Mr Kwarteng said: 'The rule is very clear, we should self-isolate. It's as simple as that. If you are pinged, you should self-isolate. I'm not going to countenance people breaking the rules or anything like that. I think they should just follow them'. 

The crisis that has turned the country into the 'United Pingdom', came as: 

There are fears that as the epidemic continues to grow and isolation rules aren't relaxed for double-jabbed Britons, that it is creating a lockdown by stealth. More than 1.3million self-isolation alerts were sent last week. BLUE BARS show the number of 'pings' sent by the NHS app each week; RED BARS show the number of people contacted by Test and Trace call handlers; and YELLOW BARS show the number of people who tested positive for Covid. However, some people pinged by the app would have also been contacted by Test and Trace. And some of the people who tested positive may have also been pinged or told to self-isolate

Data shows 600,000 alerts were sent by the NHS app in the week ending July 14, a 17 per cent rise increase on the previous seven days and another record high. The red line show the cumulative number of tracing alerts sent throughout the pandemic, while the blue bars represent the number each week

Infections were rising in England by about 67 per cent on June 30, for example, and at the same time the number of alerts sent to phones rose by 63 per cent. Even earlier this month 'pings' were rising in line with cases – infections rose by 48 per cent on July 7 while alerts jumped by 46 per cent. But by July 14, cases across England were rising at twice the rate of alerts - with a 34 per cent increase in infections compared to the 17 per cent rise in pings that reached phones

 In total, when children sent home to isolate from school are included, there were up to 2.3million people told to quarantine last week - or 3 per cent of the entire population

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Empty shelves and signs on the soft drinks aisle of a Sainsbury's store in Blackheath, Rowley Regis. Bosses asked customers to 'bear with us' blaming 'high demand'

Empty shelves in Asda as Britain was caught in a perfect storm of staff shortages and a lack of lorry drivers

Sainsbury's delicatessen and fishmonger empty and closed up at Sainsbury's in Kinross, Perthshire

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The empty bottled water shelves in Tesco in Cambridge on Thursday morning due to the 'pingdemic'

Empty pasta shelves in the Lidl in Durham, this afternoon, as food supply chains struggled because of a lack of staff

This MailOnline reader sent in this photograph of the empty milk aisle of his local Sainsbury's in Richmond, south-west London

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It is similarly bas at the Lidl store in Wolverton, Milton Keynes this morning

There was also a shortage of wine at the Lidl supermarket in Derby today (left) and empty shelves at Morrisons in BelleVale, Liverpool (right). Deliveries to supermarkets and other businesses across the UK are facing a growing shortage of drivers with many self-isolating after being pinged by the NHS COVID app

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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.

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One of Britain's largest food distribution firms is advising workers who are pinged by the NHS app to take tests and continue working, in breach of the Government advice, it was revealed today.

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'.

Mr Kwarteng has admitted he is 'concerned' about food supply issues but urged shoppers not to 'panic buy' and said he 'can't guarantee' the 'pingdemic' won't continue beyond August 16 - when rules are due to be dropped for the double jabbed.    

He added: 'I don't think it's a question of applying for this. We're going to be publishing guidance today on who might be exempt. We're looking at different sectors and we will be publishing today the sectors that will be affected.' 

No 10 said it was aware of the 'impact' self-isolation rules were having on some industries but stressed that the food supply chain was 'resilient'.

Shoppers have been sharing images of empty shelves as supermarkets warned of distribution issues amid staff shortages due to people quarantining in what is being dubbed the 'pingdemic'.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: 'We are obviously aware of the impact that is being felt by some industries and we are working closely with them.

'Specifically on supermarket shelves and food, we have a robust and resilient food supply chain in the UK as you've seen throughout the pandemic.

'You will have heard the senior member from Iceland on the Today programme this morning talking about the fact these are isolated incidents but, as I say, we continue to work closely with industries.'

The release of a list of exempt industries marks a U-turn by the Government, who previously said it would be done on a 'case by case' basis. The PM's official spokesman said on Tuesday: 'We're not going to be producing a list covering individual sectors, these business-critical areas will be able to apply for exemptions to their host departments.' 

The Business Secretary also contradicted his junior business minister Paul Scully, who earlier this week said it was a decision for individuals and employers whether they should isolate after a 'ping' from the NHS Covid-19 app.  

MailOnline readers have shared pictures of empty shelves in dozens of supermarkets across the UK in the past 24 hours. Shoppers with packed trolleys were spotted in Cambridge this afternoon. 

Jan Patterson, who was shopping at Morrisons in Brentford, West London told MailOnline: 'I wanted to buy water and soft drinks for the kids but there's not much left on the shelves. These shortages couldn't have come at a worse time, given the weather.'

Kapil Gupta, said: 'There seems to be a shortage of drinks and fresh produce. The Government need to do something about this because the problem's only going to get worse.'

More than 600,000 people in England were 'pinged' and told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app last week amid fears the software is creating a pingdemic.

Data shows 618,903 alerts were sent in the week ending July 14, a 17 per cent rise increase on the previous seven days and another record high.

Covid cases were increasing by about a third in England last week, which suggests many people have deleted the app to avoid having to isolate. 

There has been mounting pressure for weeks on the government to tweak the sensitivity of the app or make exemptions for key workers and fully vaccinated Britons following warnings that it could lead to food shortages and major disruptions as the epidemic grows. 

A worker at the store blamed the shortages on deliveries not arriving and staff being away after getting pinged by the NHS app. He added: 'We're very short of some items but the main problem is that we're not getting the deliveries. Once they arrive we do our best to put them out but a lot of staff are off work.'     

Shops and businesses of all kinds across the UK are also struggling with staffing levels with petrol stations have also been forced to close because they can't get fuel delivered. Sandwich chain Pret A Manger has temporarily closed 17 shops due to staff being forced to self-isolate.   

At Tesco supermarket in Osterley, West London shelves of mineral water and soft drinks lay empty with staff mainly blaming delivery problems. There were also empty shelves of bananas and other fresh fruit.

One employee said: 'Water and soft drinks sell very quickly in hot weather. We're just not getting enough stock delivered to put it out.

'We're doing our best but it's a struggle.'

Shopper Richard Sweeney said: 'I only came in to get some bananas and there aren't many left. It was exactly like this yesterday.

'I can only see the shortages getting worse and there being more problems over the rest of the summer.'

Jay Cousins said: 'I work on a building site and came in to get lots of water for the lads because it's hot out there.

'I don't understand why there are these shortages. There's hardly any water left and everyone is trying to pass the buck. It's a joke.'

Iceland boss Richard 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.

Covid cases in the UK are continuing to rise, the latest data from ZOE shows. It was adjusted to take into account the small number of contributors who are not vaccinated against Covid. Nearly 90 per cent of Britons have got one dose

Britain's Covid third wave has not peaked and cases are still rising, according to a symptom-tracking study that sparked hopes that the outbreak was starting to fizzle out.

King's College London scientists estimated 60,000 people were catching the virus every day in the week to July 17, the latest day data is available for — up 27 per cent in a week.

It predicted the majority of infections were still among unvaccinated Britons but the virus now appears to be more prevalent among the double-jabbed, compared to those who've only had one dose.

This does not mean vaccines do not work, and merely reflects the fact that most of the country has now received both doses, experts say.

Professor Tim Spector, the main researcher behind the app, last week claimed data showed the crisis had peaked. But today he admitted that hopes the third wave may already be receding 'have faded', after the team recalibrated their data and found cases had spiked.

Other Covid-tracking scientists are still adamant that cases will start to fall this week, despite fears 'Freedom Day' will cause daily cases to spiral to over 100,000 within weeks.

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'. 

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'. 

A Co-op spokesman said: 'We are sorry that we are running low on some products. Like many retailers, we are impacted by some patchy disruption to our deliveries and store operations but we are working closely with our suppliers to get re-stocked quickly.'

A Sainsbury's spokeswoman said: 'We are working hard to ensure customers can find what they need. While we might not always have the exact product a customer is looking for in every store, large quantities of products are being delivered to stores daily and our colleagues are focused on getting them on to the shelves as quickly as they can.'

Tony Danker, director general of the CBI, said: 'The current approach to self-isolation is closing down the economy rather than opening it up. This is surely the opposite of what the Government intended. Businesses have exhausted their contingency plans and are at risk of grinding to a halt in the next few weeks.

'What is now needed is a well-balanced approach to reopening the economy, rather than the awkward compromise that currently exists. We can end the pingdemic by bringing forward the date by which all those who have been double-jabbed no longer need to self-isolate and introducing a test & release scheme.

'Then, with infection rates rising, mitigations should also be put in place. The vast majority of businesses today are already behind this approach - demonstrating to employees and customers their diligence on Covid safety.

'We must also ensure workplaces have access to an effective, accessible testing regime. With workplace testing due to end in a matter of days, firms need urgent clarity on how community testing will work in practice.

'Ultimately, the country needs a new settlement for our society if we are to confidently live with the virus. It's not just about the next three weeks, but the next 6-12 months.'

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Near-empty bread roll shelves in Tesco in Cambridge on Thursday morning

Empty shelves and signs on the soft drinks aisle of a Sainsbury's store in Blackheath, Rowley Regis in the West Midlands

Depleted fridges in the Tesco Express at The Mailbox in Birmingham city centre, including their depleted convenience food shelf

Half-filled male toiletries shelves at Morrisons at The Gyle, Edinburgh, Scotland today

Up to 25% of staff at some businesses in the food and drink industry are self-isolating after being pinged by the NHS Test and Trace app, the head of a key industry body has said.

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, told Sky News: 'I think the situation is concerning and it's up and down the supply chain.

'It's not consistent across the country - there are some places where shops and factories are working perfectly normally and in other parts manufacturers are under extreme pressure to continue producing because they may have up to 25% of their staff off.

'This is partly as a result of structural labour shortages but increasingly the cause is pinging, and it's getting worse, there is no question about that.'

Mr Wright said the issue was posing a big problem to abattoirs, distribution and to service staff in the hospitality sector.

'As I say, these are not consistent in every part of the country, in every part of the supply chain, but where it's happening, it's bad.'

More than one in seven manufacturing firms have stopped production because of the number of workers having to self-isolate, new research has revealed.

Make UK said its study showed the importance of bringing forward the August 16 date for an end to self-isolation for those fully vaccinated.

Two thirds of 436 companies surveyed back the call in response to the widespread impact of an increasing number of staff who are having to isolate.

Around 13% of respondents said some production has already stopped.

Two thirds of companies said they had not removed any safety-related restrictions and had no plans to do so.

Stephen Phipson, Make UK chief executive, said: 'While we remain in a public health emergency the rules are clear in that anyone who is pinged should isolate.

'As such, employers should continue to act responsibly as they have since the start of the crisis and encourage their employees to follow the rules as they stand.

'However, the impact on manufacturing continues to rapidly increase and there remains an inconsistency of Government policy that allows non-vaccinated people in nightclubs while those who have had both jabs are asked to isolate.

'We would urge Government to address this by bringing forward the planned August date in order to keep the economy open.'

Three out of four of those surveyed said that NHS track and trace was having an impact on their business with the same proportion having seen this increase in the last two weeks.

More than half of companies said up to 5% of their workforce were having to isolate.

The head of the British Retail Consortium has said she is hopeful the Government might shift its position on self-isolation rules for food supply chain workers 'in the coming hours'.

Helen Dickinson told Sky News: 'Many of the businesses that have been impacted have shared data on their absence rate, those pockets of issues with, the Government.

'(Ministers) are looking at that right now, so our hope is that over the coming hours that they will shift that position, because obviously what none of us want to see is increased disruption over the coming days.'

Ian Wright, head of the Food and Drink Federation, told the Government to 'pull their fingers out,' adding: 'We need to get this sorted soon, or what will happen is that people will vote with their fingers and turn off the app.'

Mr Wright told Sky: 'One in five people turned the app off or turned off Bluetooth last week. Now that isn't a good solution to this problem, but it's an understandable reaction of people's frustration.'

The head of the Food and Drink Federation has warned consumers will be in for a 'bit of a shock' if food prices rise in line with projections over the latter half of this year.

Speaking to Sky News, Ian Wright warned increasing commodity prices, labour shortages and growing freight costs could rapidly drive up costs.

'I think food inflation will be in mid-single digits by the end of the summer or early autumn, and I think it could go higher in some parts by the end of the year,' he said.

'I think it's something to which the Government needs to pay close attention to pretty fast.'

He added: 'You can see that the conditions are beginning to come into into focus for quite serious price rises in the second half of the year and even more in the first half of next year.

'After 30 years of food price deflation, that will be a bit of a shock to shoppers and to policymakers.'

But environment Secretary George Eustice attempted to downplay concerns over supermarket supplies by insisting staff shortages were lower now compared to earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Eustice told MPs: 'Over the past 18 months the key workers in our food supply chain have worked incredibly hard to keep the nation fed during the difficult context of the pandemic.

'The recent hot weather has increased demand for some items, like bottled water, and staff absences have increased but remain lower than seen earlier in the pandemic.

'We are working with colleagues across Government to support businesses in the food supply chain.' 

Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard earlier asked why Mr Eustice has not 'got a grip' on the situation.

SNP MP Patricia Gibson for North Ayrshire and Arran said: 'Shortages of workers in warehouses and food processing centres across the UK is having a real impact on packaging food for supermarket shelves, with Tesco bosses warning that every week 48 tonnes of food is wasted.

'This is exacerbated by an estimated 100,000 shortage of HGV drivers.

'What interventions will the Secretary of State make to address this shocking state of affairs?'

Mr Eustice said the Department for Transport has announced plans to increase the speed of driver testing and repeated the Government was working to protect 'strategic infrastructure' in connection with isolation requirements.

Another 752 infected patients were admitted in England on July 19, the most recent day figures are available for. This was up just 23 per cent on the week before

Although cases are still rising, the speed at which they are increasing has slowed in recent days. In June, the daily average number of infections was rising at up to 75 per cent per week compared to around 36 per cent now. The yellow bars show the number of positive tests each day and the red line represents the week-on-week percentage growth

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.

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 

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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.

'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.'

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

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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'

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.' 

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.

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.'  

Is anyone else wondering why this was not a proble...

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