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RETAIL ENVIRONMENT

Retail staff should be exempt from 'pingdemic'

The BRC has urged the Government to ensure staff in retail stores and suppliers should be allowed to work even if they receive an NHS COVID app ‘ping’ alert to self-isolate.

The Government list of exempt workers which included food manufacturers and distributors in the supply chain fell short of the consortium’s plea, even though many retailers fear having to close stores because of staff shortages triggered by the requirement to self-isolate.

The BRC’s call follows reports that grocery and food supply chains are “starting to fail”, and several retail shops have complained about having to close because of the number of people being “pinged” by the NHS Covid-19 app to self-isolate after being exposed to COVID-19.

The phenomenon is becoming known as the “pingdemic”, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has apologised to businesses for the “inconvenience” but told them to stick with isolation rules.

In the face of widespread criticism over staff shortages as COVID-19 cases soar, Johnson has announced a plan for a “small number” of critical workers to be able to continue their functions.

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.

Johnson urged people to stick with the rules until they change because “isolation is a vital tool of our defence”.

Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at the BRC, said: “The ongoing ‘pingdemic’ is putting increasing pressure on retailers’ ability to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked.

“Government needs to act fast. 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.

“With community cases soaring, the number of healthy retail staff having to self-isolate is rising fast, disrupting retail operations.”

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.

He has 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.

However, 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.

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