Staff shortages in food industry are ‘manageable’, say ministers

NHS Covid app is 'holding workforce back' says Tobias Ellwood

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They also state that self-isolation is still a key part of the fight against coronavirus. But they are warning that the August 16 date for lifting quarantine for double-vaccinated people could be delayed. Cabinet minister George Eustice said the date had only been announced to give people “some kind of indication” of when restrictions might change. But he warned the date could still move “in either direction”.

He recognised the “stress” that staff shortages were causing after a record 618,903 people were pinged by the NHS tracing app last week.

However, he defended the decision to limit the lifting of self-isolation requirements to food supply workers, saying ministers were keeping “a very close eye” on the number of hospital admissions.

He spoke as the Government is facing a huge backlash after unveiling get-outs from the rules designed to stop essential supply chains collapsing.

More than 10,000 critical workers will be exempt from quarantining along with a small number of named people in other industries such as transport, if they have received both doses of the coronavirus jab.

Mr Eustice, the Environment Secretary, told Sky News: “All of the people working in those key strategic sites, distribution depots and those manufacturing facilities will be able to use this scheme, and probably well over 10,000 people.

“The reason we’ve made a special exception for food is for very obvious reasons – we need to make sure that we maintain our food supply, we will never take risks with our food supply.

“When it comes to other sectors, yes, of course the fact that they are also carrying high absence levels is causing some stress for them and making it more difficult.

“You also have to bear in mind why we’re doing this.

“We are trying to still just dampen the pace and the velocity at which this infection is spreading because we have to keep a very close eye on those hospitalisations.” But industry leaders have warned they will still face staff shortages and lost revenue because of the number of workers having to self-isolate.

John Foster, CBI director of policy, said while food industry measures should be welcomed, those for other critical workers would “rapidly become significantly challenged”.

He said: “If the daily contact testing scheme is deemed as a good, safe solution by the Government, the next step must be to scale this up at pace.

“This scheme illustrates what it is to live with the virus.”

Hannah Essex, of the British Chambers of Commerce, called on the Government to release results of pilot schemes for the so-called test to release plans which would allow more double-vaccinated people to avoid self-isolation “beyond this narrow group of critical workers”.

The Local Government Association said directors of public health were already being overwhelmed with queries from employers.

Rail services across England are being cut due to staff self-isolating. Routes in and out of Sheffield are likely to be the worst hit. Thameslink and Southern will cut its weekday timetables on five routes from Monday “until further notice”. Avanti West Coast is also cutting trains from Monday on its routes between London Euston and Manchester, Birmingham and North Wales.

It came as figures showed that 741,700 people in private households in England are likely to have had Covid-19 in the week to July 17.

Infections continue to increase across the UK with rates similar to those seen in February, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The estimated number of people testing positive is the equivalent of around one in 75 people, up from one in 95 people in the previous week. It is also the highest number since the week to January 30.

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