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UK supermarkets warn of pingdemic impact on food supply

  • British food chains reporting staff shortages amid rising COVID-19 cases
  • UK supermarkets said the “pingdemic” caused by the NHS COVID app had triggered panic buying
  • Health Minister Sajid Javid said supermarkets are exaggerating about empty shelves
  • Martin Lewis offers advice on how to claim money while during the isolation period

British supermarkets have said that the so-called “pingdemic” is threatening food supplies and causing staff shortages.

The term “pingdemic” was coined from “pings” delivered by the NHS app to notify users when they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The NHS COVID app then issues a message urging them to quarantine at home for ten days.

While the app is a powerful tool, critics have said that the technology is far too sensitive and has wrongly notified thousands of Britons to self-isolate.

Several UK food chains, including ASDA, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, have said that the NHS COVID app had caused supply issues and delivery delays by placing a strain on the labour force.

Workers who have been in close proximity to someone that has tested positive for COVID-19 are being forced to isolate irrespective of whether they have tested negative for the virus.

UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said that the British government was alarmed by the number of people “pinged” by the NHS COVID app but disputed reports that supermarket shelves were empty.

However, official government figures have shown that more than 600,000 people received notifications from the app in the week ending July 14th. According to recent data, one in four Britons have deleted or muted the app, either out of frustration or to avoid isolation.

Supermarkets have said that the pingdemic has had a damaging impact on food supplies. For example, co-Op Food revealed that it was running low on an abundance of products, with personal care products such as cotton pads and body wash worst-affected.

Meanwhile, supermarket chain Iceland said it was considering closing some of its stores amid heightened staff shortages.

However, Iceland and Sainsbury’s have both downplayed supply disruption to prevent a wave of panic buying.

UK supermarkets say pingdemic is impacting food supplies

UK government downplays reports that supermarkets are low on stock

Mr Kwarteng insisted that the UK government was reviewing the situation, adding that he doesn’t “want people to be of the opinion that every supermarket shelf is bare – that is not the case.”

However, several newspapers have displayed images of empty shelves at food retailers on their front pages. It comes as UK government data reveals that a record 618,903 Britons were asked to go into isolation for ten days last week.

Supermarkets aren’t the only sectors affected by the “pingdemic”, with the hospitality and transport industries also citing staffing shortages.

Some companies have been forced to reduce their opening hours or close completely to cope with a reduced workforce.

The record number of “pings” saw the UK government come under increasing pressure to alter the app’s system and allow those who are double vaccinated or testing negative for COVID-19 to return to work.

Downing Street has refused to tweak the app’s technology amid concerns over the ongoing spike in coronavirus cases in Britain, with daily caseloads coming in around 40,000.

According to the latest GOV.uk data, 39,906 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, with the 7-day case rate up by more than 44% as of July 17th.

Britain’s coronavirus infection rate has seen exponential growth over July, which has sparked fears over the UK economy’s final unlocking, triggering the third wave of COVID-19 in the country.

Although the UK government said it was prepared to allow the daily infection rate to hit 100,000 over the summer, ministers have begun to push Britain’s vaccination campaign.

From September 30th, only people that have been double vaccinated will be allowed to enter nightclubs or venues where large crowds are present.

UK Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “The government has made it clear, especially when it comes to younger people who want to attend nightclubs. From September end, anyone that wishes to enter these venues would effectively need to be double-jabbed.”

As of July 23rd, 46,433,845 UK adults have received one coronavirus vaccine, and 36,587,904 are fully vaccinated.

Although COVID caseloads are exceptionally high, Britain’s world-leading vaccination programme appears to have severed the link between hospitalisations and deaths, with 84 coronavirus-induced fatalities reported within the 28 days of a positive test.

In response to calls for the NHS app’s technology to be tweaked, the UK government said that priority testing sites would be set up at the largest supermarket distribution centres over the coming week.

The British government is also rolling out daily contact testing across food retailers to determine whether staff that have been “pinged” by the NHS app can make a safe return if they test negative for COVID-19.

Industry figures have also urged ministers to introduce exemptions for other sectors of the economy, amid warnings that the pingdemic has negatively impacted the health firms, hospitals and the police force.

600,000 people in the UK required to self-isolate

Britain releases self-isolation exemption list

On Thursday, the British government released a list of sectors where double vaccinated workers may be exempt from COVID isolation rules if they are advised to quarantine due to being near someone that has tested positive for the virus.

According to the latest data, workers from the following sectors of the UK economy are exempt:

  • Border control
  • Clinical consumable supplies
  • Civil nuclear
  • Digital infrastructure
  • Emergency services
  • Energy
  • Essential defence output
  • Essential chemicals
  • Essential transport
  • Food and production supply
  • Local government
  • Medicines
  • Medical devices
  • Water
  • Waste
  • Veterinary medicines

There will also be exemptions for “critical workers”, including railway signallers and air traffic controllers, which newly-appointed Health Minister Sajid Javid said, “deliver vital services to the economy.”

Workers from eligible sectors will be allowed to travel to and from their residence for work if they test negative for COVID-19 but must self-isolate when not at work.

The new measure only applies to fully vaccinated employees that received their second COVID jab 14 days before receiving a ping notification.

UK Environment Secretary George Eustice said that the exemption would allow more than 10,000 workers in England to avoid quarantine. Ministers have also hinted at further easing come August 16th, after which fully vaccinated people are expected to be granted greater freedoms.

However, Britain’s Environment Secretary also warned that the current COVID crisis in the UK would more than likely deteriorate.

His warning follows alarming comments from the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, who told the press that 60% of COVID-related hospitalisations were double-jabbed people.

The UK government is believed to be considering including coronavirus testing as part of its COVID passport scheme due to exponential growth in the infection rate.

Downing Street has also warned employees that they will only be eligible if their employer has received a letter informing them that their name is on the exemption list.

A spokesman for the UK government stated, “this is not a blanket exemption” and that guidance issued by ministers on Thursday “will not cover all or in most cases even the majority of workers in critical sectors.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care said guidance offered on Thursday was “a small and targeted intervention to ensure that critical services can continue to contribute to the safety and functioning of our society.”

The British government has also encouraged workers identified as close contacts of those who test positive for COVID to only go into work if it would result in the “loss or compromise” of “critical elements of national infrastructure.”

However, there has been significant confusion about which sectors are eligible for the scheme. Financial journalist Martin Lewis said that some people who have received notifications from the NHS COVID app and are forced to quarantine might qualify for a GBP 500 payment.

Some employees forced to self-isolate may be eligible for a GBP 500 payment

Financial journalist and broadcaster Martin Lewis has said that workers claiming certain benefits or on a low income and facing financial hardship may be entitled to a GBP 500 payment when asked to go into isolation.

Those eligible can make a claim if they have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace, the NHS COVID app or a parent or guardian of a child that has tested positive and been asked to quarantine.

It comes amid heightened confusion about what sectors are eligible for the exemption scheme and unclear guidance over how an employee would know that they would not have to isolate themselves if they were to come into contact with someone that has coronavirus.

If eligible for the Test and Trace support payment, the GBP 500 is paid out to you for each ten-day self-isolation period you are required to undertake.

However, be aware that as some councils have run out of funding, even those eligible may be denied the payment.

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