Shop shortages bite as pingdemic threatens to empty supermarket shelves

The government faces pressure to ease restrictions on people told to self-isolate by Test and Trace from supermarkets who say they are facing staff shortages.

With Covid cases surging due to the super-spreadable Delta variant, up to a million Brits have been told to isolate by the NHS app in the past few days alone.

Iceland boss Richard Walker told GMB his firm had hired 2,000 temp staff to cover absences in the past few days alone.

But he said the budget grocery chain was still forced to shutter "a number of stores" after 1,000 staff members – nearly 4% of the company's employees – were pinged by the app.

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Walker said yesterday: "Once shelves are stripped bare it is the most vulnerable that actually suffer.

"Individuals have a large role to play to shop responsibly.

"Panic buying is only an option for those who can afford it.

"There is no need to panic buy."

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The Iceland CEO added images of empty shelves were "isolated incidents" and that the firm's supply chains were "resilient".

Despite calls to make the app less strict in urging self-isolation for pinged Brits, the government has held its position in forcing people to self-isolate if told to do so.

However, Number 10 is drawing up a list of key workers and essential industries whose staff won't have to follow the app's advice.

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Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News: "We're going to announce a list of exempt workers. The list of exemptions will be quite narrow because, obviously, you have to draw the line somewhere."

He added he was "very concerned" by reports of shop shortages, yet more so by the spike in Covid cases driving the so-called pingdemic in the first place.

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Under the current rules in England, anyone traced as a contact of a positive coronavirus case must isolate for 10 days even if they are fully vaccinated.

If they are told to do so by the NHS Test and Trace app, it's the law, but if the NHS Covid app has told them to, it is merely advisory.

Government policy is set to change on August 16, allowing the fully vaccinated and under-18s to avoid self-isolating as long as they receive a negative test.

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The UK faces a potential third wave of the virus as new cases continue to number in the tens of thousands each day.

Although deaths and hospitalisations remain low – which shows the positive impact of the vaccines – scientists have warned we could be facing up to 100k daily cases and 10k in hospital within a few months if pockets of the population continue to refuse the jab.

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