Shops are struggling to keep shelves stocked as thousands of workers are forced to stay at home by the “pingdemic”.
Industry bosses warned today they were facing “increasing pressure” to keep stores open and shelves filled.
The British Retail Consortium called for a change in guidance to allow double-vaccinated staff to carry on working if told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability, 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 Covid test, to ensure there is no disruption to the public’s ability to get food and other goods.”
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Fruit runs out in Morrisons in Sidcup
(Image: Tim Merry)
He said staff going into isolation due to “soaring” Covid cases was “disrupting retail operations”. A shortage of lorry drivers, in part due to Brexit, has also put the grocery supply chain under strain.
Shoppers have posted shots of empty supermarket shelves online.
And the Mirror today found shelves empty at Morrisons in Granton, Edinburgh, an empty cheese counter in a Manchester Sainsbury’s, and bare shelves at Morrisons in Sidcup, Kent, and a Tesco branch in Cambridge.
Deserted cheese counter at a Sainsbury’s in Manchester
(Image: JOHN MATHER/IMAGEVIEW)
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Boris Johnson today apologised to employers who were suffering “inconvenience” because of the self-isolation system.
But he claimed it was “one of the few real tools we have in our armoury”, despite lifting almost all legal Covid restrictions days ago.
At PMQs, where Mr Johnson appeared by video link from his country retreat, Chequers, where he is in self-isolation, Keir Starmer branded the PM a “super-spreader of confusion” with his mixed messages about quarantining.
Empty shelves at Morrisons in Granton, Edinburgh
(Image: Katielee Arrowsmith SWNS)
The Labour leader, who later went into self-isolation after one of his children tested positive, warned of a “summer of chaos”.
He pointed to confusion over plans to exempt some people from the need to isolate if pinged, and a proposal to make vaccine passports needed for entry into nightclubs, but only from September.
Food industry chiefs also warned today that supply chains were “starting to fail” due to the number of workers isolating.
(Image: PRU/AFP via Getty Images)
In the face of widespread criticism from businesses, the PM had announced a plan for a “small number” of critical workers to be able to work despite being pinged.
But Nick Allen, of the British Meat Processors Association, criticised “confusing messages” from the Government, saying ministers had not clarified who was exempt.
He said: “This exemption will be for very, very few people. They described it as setting the bar very, very high and we’re certainly not counting on that.”
Bare shelves in a Tesco in Cambridge after supply issues
(Image: Bav Media)
But Cabinet ministers are urging No10 to go further and widen the list of jobs to cover logistics, supermarket and hospitality workers.
The latest figures show more than 500,000 people in England and Wales were asked to isolate by the NHS app in the week up to July 1.
Businesses have also warned the supply chain to manufacturers is “teetering on the edge of collapse”.
Enginuity, a not-for-profit engineering skills body, blamed an exodus of European HGV drivers following Brexit, Covid testing delays at UK and European ports, and self-isolation.
Ann Watson, chief executive of the Enginuity Group, said: “We are on the verge of a crisis which threatens the viability of manufacturing. We need urgent Government intervention.”
The heatwave is also causing shortages, with bottled water in particular running low. On Tesco’s website, several mineral water multi-packs were listed as “unavailable”.
In a branch of Sainsbury’s visited by the Mirror on Tuesday evening, the section for water was almost bare. Sainsbury’s said any supply disruption was likely to be “store-specific”.
The heatwave has also led to reports of ice cream shortages. But a Tesco spokeswoman said: “We have good availability of ice cream. Our colleagues are working hard to make sure our freezers are fully stocked.”
Dozens of councils across England have been forced to suspend bin collections due to staff self-isolating.
And engaged couples pinged by the app the night before their wedding should call it off, ministers have said.
Tory Vicky Atkins admitted it would be a “terribly difficult scenario”, but said couples should self-isolate.
The app has no legal force, which could make it hard for couples to reclaim wedding costs on insurance.