British food producers, retailers and transport companies descended into panic mode over the weekend as a surge in workers being forced to self-isolate hits suppliers across the country.
Workplaces have seen a rush of absences after 1.7 million people were “pinged” as of last week by a National Health Service app that tells them they’ve been in contact with a Covid-positive person. As the U.K. sustains another wave of infections, the alerts urged recipients to avoid people for 10 days.
That’s hard to do when you work at restaurants or grocery stores. The crisis prompted authorities to commit last week to daily testing rather than self-isolation for some employees in the food supply chain.
The disruptions echo some of the chaos Britain saw during its first national lockdown in March 2020 — tabloid stories and nightly newscasts showing bare store shelves.
What’s different this time is the effort to arm the public with a track-and-trace app has backfired, causing flash labor shortages just as the nation’s last remaining Covid restrictions were lifted.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, says the new program must be rolled out “as fast as possible” to combat the so-called “pingdemic.”
At stake: The British economy could lose more than 4.6 billion pounds ($6.3 billion) in just four weeks if rules on self-isolation aren’t relaxed, according to data from Centre for Economics and Business Research.
This month, 22% of all staff absences were due to positive Covid cases or the need to isolate, according to data from wellbeing and productivity firm FirstCare.
Supermarket chain Iceland is hoping to hire 2,000 temporary workers to tackle others being told to stay at home.
British Growers, which represents the fruit and vegetable industry, said fulfilling supermarket slots has been tough.
“Everything has just conspired to make life a lot more difficult,” said Jack Ward, head of the industry group. However, Environment Secretary George Eustice sought to cool shortage fears, insisting that people can shop normally.