Following concerns over food supply problems, the government has said those working at supermarket depots and in the food manufacturing industry will be exempt from Covid self-isolation rules. The announcement was made after it was revealed that vast numbers of food workers were being forced to stay off work because of the self-isolation rules.
The government has now said that workers who qualify for the exemption will be able to do daily testing and be exempt regardless of their vaccination status. It is thought around 10,000 workers will be eligible for the exemption, including staff at supermarket depots but not in-store supermarket staff.
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Keeping the policy under review
The exemption scheme will kick off at 15 depots this week and a further 150 depots next week. While this has come as a relief for the industry, there has been a lot of disappointment that supermarket workers will not be exempt.
According to government officials, the task of exempting supermarket workers across the nation would have been an enormous undertaking. However, it was confirmed that the government would keep the policy under review.
Environment Secretary George Eustice told BBC Breakfast, "You're talking then thousands of different shops and many more people and we still want to maintain the test, trace and isolate system."
The decision to make some food workers exempt comes after supermarkets expressed concerns over supply problems because of the number of staff being pinged and having to self-isolate. Figures show that between 8th and 15th July, nearly 620,000 people in England and Wales were told to self-isolate by the NHS app.
Jenny from The Brick Castle told us: "Food security is essential, and during the pandemic, we need to keep supply chains running smoothly. Shopworkers are regularly exposed to infected people, but they also come face to face with our most high-risk populations.
"We are asking a lot of them regarding both personal risk and preventing onward transmission. It makes sense for anyone in that position to have access to free regular testing - reducing the risk of large workplace outbreaks and closures, and protecting our most vulnerable people."
Speedy rollout of the scheme essential
The move has been welcomed by the food and supermarket industries, and the government is being urged to roll it out as soon as possible. Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said that while disruption was not a major problem at the moment, this could change if there was any issue with the scheme being rolled out.
The decision by the government will also come as a relief to consumers and may reduce instances of panic buying. Several images have appeared on social media platforms lately showing stripped shelves at supermarkets, sparking concerns consumers might start panic buying like during the first wave of the pandemic.