Iceland has confirmed plans to hire 2,000 extra store staff to cover staff absences following the so-called “pingdemic”.
The frozen foods grocer said its recruitment drive will begin in a “few days” after this week admitting it has had to shut some stores due to staff shortages.
Iceland will put job ads out in stores, on social media and in petrol service stations.
All the vacancies will be temporary roles to see the supermarket through current staff shortages which are affecting multiple supermarket chains nationwide.
The unusually high number of employee absences are being caused by workers having to stay home after being “pinged” and told to self-isolate by the NHS app.
Iceland is launching a huge recruitment drive for temporary staff
(Image: Getty Images)
Speaking to the BBC, Iceland managing director Richard Walker said over 1,000 staff had been “pinged” and staff absence rates are now double the usual number, with the figure rising 50% "week on week".
He told Radio 4's Today programme: "Our big concern is that we've kept all of our shops open throughout the pandemic, but now we have had to close one or two shops and reduce hours in others.
"But that could get a lot worse a lot quicker, unless the country's system is sorted out."
But Mr Walker urged shoppers not to panic-buy, saying: "There is certainly no problem with supply of stock.
"Panic-buying is only an option for those who can afford it and it often means that others go without."
Opening hours across the Iceland shop estate have also been reduced following the shortages.
A spokeswoman for Iceland told The Grocer: “We have been bringing local colleagues in from nearby stores to support the stores that need more help.
“It has been all hands to the pump. We’ve seen managers driving delivery vans and really going above and beyond.”
Elsewhere, shoppers are complaining about empty shelves – a Sainsbury's store pictured here
(Image: Tim Merry)
The recruitment drive from the supermarket chain comes after M&S said it may also have to cut opening hours to cope with the absences.
Retailers are also grappling with a shortage of HGV drivers, an issue before the “pingdemic” and caused by a mixture of coronavirus and Brexit disruption.
It's estimated there is a shortfall of around 100,000 lorry drivers in the UK.
The problems combined have caused complaints of empty shelves from customers who shop at the Big Four – Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – as well as discounters like Aldi and Lidl.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) – the trade association for all UK retailers – is also urging shoppers not to panic buy and says supermarkets are working closely with suppliers.
But it admits retailers are under “increasing pressure” to keep shelves stocked.
Empty shelves in a Morrisons store this week
(Image: Tim Merry)
Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at the BRC, said: "The ongoing 'pingdemic' is putting increasing pressure on retailers' ability to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked. Government needs to act fast.
"Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double vaccinated or can show a negative coronavirus test, to ensure there is no disruption to the public's ability to get food and other goods.
"With community cases soaring, the number of healthy retail staff having to self-isolate is rising fast, disrupting retail operations."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week said certain “critical workers” won't have to stay home if they're pinged – including staff such as NHS workers to railway signallers and air traffic controllers.
But firms will have to apply to the government for permission one by one and only a few thousand workers are expected to be included.
This has led to food chiefs claiming the rules aren't clear enough and urged for clarity on who exactly can carry on working.