Over 10,000 Essential Workers Given Exemption From Self-Isolation In Bid To Avoid Food Shortages
Supply chain workers at 500 sites will be eligible for the self-isolation exemption (Alamy)
Environment secretary George Eustice said that around 10,000 workers across 500 distribution centres and food supply chain depots will be able to skip 10-day isolation requirements amid fears of food shortages.
It comes after the government announced a list of 16 sectors in which employers will be able to apply to a scheme allowing double-vaccinated staff to skip quarantine provided they test negative for coronavirus.
Speaking on Friday morning, Eustice said ministers had been forced to act after absence levels at some key supply sites reached between 15 and 20%.
But he ruled out adding further sectors, such as hospitality, to the list before new rules on self-isolation come into effect in mid August.
"We are obviously keeping everything under review. The reason we have made a special exception for food is for very obvious reasons.” he told Sky News.
"We need to make sure that we maintain our food supply. We will never take risk with our food supply.”
Eustice continued: “When it comes to other sectors, yes, of course the fact they are also carrying high absence levels is causing some stress for them, making it more difficult.”
"But you also have to bear in mind why we are doing this. We are trying to still dampen the pace and velocity at which this infection is spreading, because we have to keep a very close eye on those hospitalisations."
Self-isolation requirements for all UK adults are set to be eased from 16 August, when double-jabbed individuals will no longer be legally required to self-isolate if they are identified as a close contact of a positive Covid-19 case provided they test negative.
But concerns are already being raised by the significant number of people being “pinged” as close contacts of potential cases, leading to huge staff shortages in some parts of the economy.
More than 600,000 people using the NHS Covid-19 app in England and Wales were sent self-isolation alerts in the week between 8 and 15 July — a 17% rise on the previous week.
Speaking on Thursday, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told the BBC he was "very concerned" about reported food supply issues.
But he urged shoppers to remain calm, insisting that shortages were not a significant issue. He said: "It is not a universal thing, 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 certain critical industries, and we are reviewing that situation.”
Self-isolation rule changes have been brought forward by the government for 16 sectors: energy, civil nuclear, digital infrastructure, food production and supply, waste, water, veterinary medicines, essential chemicals, essential transport, medicines, medical devices, clinical consumable supplies, emergency services, border control, essential defence outputs, and local government.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe