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Food supply chains ‘on edge of failing’ amid ‘pingdemic’ fears

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The shelves are almost empty at Morrisons at The Gyle, Edinburgh. (Photo by PA)

UK food supply chains are “right on the edge of failing,” a meat industry agency has warned, as the UK's COVID app “pingdemic” has thrown British companies into chaos.

The British Meat Processors’ Association (BMPA) said on Thursday that even without considering the impact of the Covid crisis skill shortages are so severe that some factories report permanent job vacancy rates of up to 15 percent.

The stark warning comes on the heels of staff shortages of several large UK chains including, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Waitrose, whose workers are forced to self-isolate, and it pushes supply chains to the brink of collapse.

In accordance with current regulations, a person who is notified by the NHS COVID-19 app that they have been in contact with a COVID-positive case, must quarantine even if their test result is negative.

More than 600,000 people were ‘pinged’ by the COVID app in England and Wales last week, with a 17 percent rise in the self-isolation alerts in a single week.

The BMPA said businesses are “increasingly concerned about the threat of empty supermarket shelves, just as peak summer demand hits,” adding that they have not obtained any “definitive” guidance from the government yet.

Meanwhile, Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, said that his government is “very concerned” about staff shortages and the depletion of product supplies in the country.

Kwarteng told the BBC that a list of workers would be published on Thursday, in which, a “quite narrow” number of critical workers, including those working in the health and care sectors, will be exempt from the quarantine rules.

Nick Allen, CEO of the BMPA, said, “According to the latest verbal advice we’ve been given, we think that exemptions will be very selective and difficult to qualify for”, which in turn “would throw up an added wall of bureaucracy and be completely unsuited to managing a fast moving-production line that’s made up of people with multiple different, but equally vital skills.”

He was at pains to admit that “if the UK workforce situation deteriorates further, companies will be forced to start shutting down production lines all together.”

He added that they have called on the government “to allow the industry to temporarily fill the growing vacancies with overseas workers until the current crisis has passed.”

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