New COVID protocols being rolled out in response to "pingdemic"

Published on
July 26, 2021
NHS coronavirus contact tracing app notification in the U.K.

Many workers within food and drink supply chains in the United Kingdom will soon be exempt from the self-isolation rules that follow being “pinged” by the NHS COVID-19 app.

Last week, more than 600,000 residents in England and Wales were notified by the app that they were required to self-quarantine after possible exposure to COVID-19. As a result, some companies reported as much as 20 percent of their staff were absent because of the isolation requirements, The Guardian reported.

To ease the problems that being caused by the so-called “pingdemic,” U.K. Environment Secretary George Eustice and U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid have outlined plans for daily contact testing for the food and drink industries.

New targeted testing for certain workplaces is being rolled out, with the food industry being prioritized, they said in a statement.

At a roundtable with supermarket leaders on Thursday, 22 July, the government committed to putting in place actions to support the resilience of the food supply chain.

Following clinical trial results, daily contact testing will be rolled out to critical workplaces in the food supply chain so that contacts who would otherwise be self-isolating can instead take daily tests. Priority testing sites have already been identified with industry for urgent implementation, including the largest supermarket distribution centers, with rollout to hundreds of sites planned to start this week, with up to 500 sites in scope.

The U.K. government said the move will allow daily testing for staff to take place so they can continue their vital work to supplying food for the nation. It will mean workers who have received 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.

“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,” 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.”

Javid said daily contact testing of workers in the sector would help to minimize the disruption caused by rising cases in the coming weeks, while ensuring workers are not put at risk.

Meanwhile the U.K.’s Road Haulage Association (RHA) has warned that the pingdemic has piled further pressure on the logistics sector, with businesses seeing many drivers told to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace app.

It said that the country is short of around 100,000 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) and that there are already signs of shortages of food and other products in the coming weeks and months.

The RHA is urging the government to change the rules and allow commercial vehicle drivers pinged by the app to continue to work if they have received two COVID-19 jabs and are able to produce negative COVID tests.

Photo courtesy of David Whidborne/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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