Supermarkets are under “increasing pressure” to keep shelves full, and retail industry leaders have warned of the growing chaos caused by the “pandemic” that continues to force thousands of workers to self-isolate.
With shops in short supply in some areas, and businesses in sectors from gas stations to postal services affected by absences, the government is being urged to include supermarket employees, truck drivers and other frontline workers on the list of those exempted from the self-isolation rules. .
The government has announced that some industries will be able to apply for employee waivers, allowing critical workers who are “under pressure” from the NHS test and trace app to return to work after PCR testing and daily lateral flow tests, rather than self-isolating for 10 days.
But it has not yet published a list of sectors that could participate in the scheme and there will be no list of critical workers exempt from automatic self-isolation; Instead, waivers will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
With relatively few exemptions expected, employers are concerned and frustrated that thousands of workers will still have to self-isolate when stressed.
Andrew Obe, director of food at the British Retail Consortium’s trade body, said staff shortages could be having an impact on working hours and racking up shelves.
“The ongoing spread of the ‘epidemic’ is putting increasing pressure on the ability of retailers to maintain opening hours and keep shelves full. The government must act quickly,” Obi said. “Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role during this pandemic, must be allowed to operate. Provided they are vaccinated twice or test negative for Covid, to ensure that there is no disruption to the public’s ability to obtain food and other goods. “
The Iceland grocery chain aims to hire 2,000 reserve staff to help cover absences. The retailer said it had to reduce trading hours and even close some stores because it had experienced a staff shortage due to workers receiving notifications from the NHS test and tracing app.
Richard Walker, Iceland’s president, said a few outlets were forced to close after more than 1,000 workers – just over 3% of the total group – were asked to self-isolate after being pressured by the application.
He said the problems were patchy – some stores saw much higher vacancy rates than others – while the number of people having to isolate was “growing about 50% week after week, which was really worrying”.
Walker called on the government to urgently amend enforcement or self-isolation rules, ahead of changes planned for August 16. “Supermarkets need to focus on feeding the nation and not writing to government departments,” he said. He said about 96% of those alerted by the NHS app who worked in Iceland had not tested positive for Covid-19.
There have also been reports on social media that some areas of supermarkets have run out of basic supplies including milk, eggs, bread and rice.
Tesco said it ran out of bottled water in its warehouses, while Co-op said supplies in the “vast majority” of its stores had been disrupted “due to the impact of Covid/colleague isolation”.
A company spokesperson said: “This is a short-term but significant impact and has affected our ability to supply stores. These issues affect the vast majority of co-op stores.”
The Daily Telegraph also reported that police forces across the country have been affected. In Dorset, a third of control room employees have been out of work after coming under stress or testing positive for Covid.
Cleveland Crime and Police Commissioner Steve Turner warned the public to expect longer call response times. He said, “We suddenly find ourselves canceling rest days, canceling leave and bringing in officers from other shifts to cover the gaps we have. However, our call times will go up, and we will miss some of the calls we usually pick up because we have less flexibility in the call center.”
The warnings come as the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said some factories have already been hit by staff shortages of up to 16% even without the impact of the pandemic.
In addition to the basic shortage of workers, we also hear from some members that between 5% and 10% of their workforce may ‘be under pressure from [health service] BMPA CEO, Nick Allen said, “
He said the shortage of workers has affected meat products that require more labor to produce, which means these lines will be the first to be cut.
The problem of self-isolation is adding to the shortage of delivery workers, especially heavy truck drivers, caused by a combination of Brexit, Covid and changes in tax rules.
BP said an industry-wide shortage of truck drivers caused temporary fuel supply problems, leading to the temporary closure of “a handful” of its UK sites. The oil giant’s supply chain was also affected by the shutdown of its fuel distribution station due to Covid isolation among employees last week.
However, BP told the BBC that “the vast majority” of the shortage “was resolved within a day”.
The Royal Mail said that in a “limited number of regions” services were disrupted due to Covid-related absences.
Leading retailers say absenteeism rates are currently around 10%, much lower than they were at the height of the pandemic last spring, but that it is difficult to manage as some stores and product categories are hit hard.
Some stores have absence rates of up to 30%, with the North East and North West of England affected, while major deliveries in certain parts of the country have also been affected.
Sharp increases in demand for fresh fruit, salads and other hot-weather staples brought on by the sudden heat wave also added to the hardships. Unusually high demand in holiday areas has also led to shortages as delivery systems struggle to keep up.