Empty shelves as 'pingdemic' takes its toll on Suffolk's supply chain
- Credit: ARCHANT
The 'pingdemic' is taking its toll on Suffolk's supply chain with retailers continuing to experience issues getting goods on shelves.
As government figures show that a record 618,903 alerts were sent out in one week by the NHS Covid app, fears of labour shortages are beginning to grow in some sectors affected by the crisis.
Andy Walker, Suffolk Chamber's head of policy and public affairs, said: "Some key industries are struggling, especially the food and drink sector as well as those in logistics.
"There has been a shortage of HGV drivers for some time but even less are now available due to the 'pingdemic' and the problem is only going to get worse. Freedom Day and very confusing messaging on masks and self-isolation has not helped the situation.”
While a union source said he feared the growing impact of the 'pingdemic' — along with migrant workers returning home — could lead to a "labour shortage" within the meat industry.
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Mr Walker called for more details on the impact that relaxing the self-isolation rules would have.
Currently government guidance is that anyone 'pinged' by the NHS Covid app should self-isolate. But, from August 16, the government plans to relax this rule allowing double-jabbed people not to isolate.
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A spokeswoman for the East of England Co-op said: “Like many retailers, we’re currently experiencing some issues with regards to supply. We have also seen an increase in the number of colleagues needing to self-isolate; however, our teams are working incredibly hard to minimise any impact on our members and customers and to mitigate the need to reduce store opening hours.
“While we’re aware that some retailers are looking to recruit new team members, this is not something we are considering at this time.”
Bidfood, a food distribution firm with a depot in Stowmarket, is going against government guidelines in an effort to supply its customers.
Andrew Selley, the company's chief executive, said: “If [staff] are pinged we ask them to take a PCR test, if that’s positive then clearly they’ll isolate, but if it’s negative we ask them to come back to work and we have a process of doing lateral flow tests daily away from their workplace, and if that’s negative they can proceed with their work.”
A Bidfood spokeswoman said the company was following all legal requirements and giving staff the choice whether to self-isolate.
Adam Searle, boss of Felixstowe-based CP Transport, said the self-isolation rules were compounding existing problems for hauliers.
Mr Searle said he frequently struggled to find enough drivers, and if a group were forced to self-isolate it would be "awful" for his business.
"It's terrible," he said. "And it's only going to get worse. But it's something we've allowed to happen over the last 20 years as a country."
A spokesman for Tesco, the UK's biggest supermarket, said the chain had plenty of food and deliveries were arriving every day, but added that a lack of HGV drivers and staff self-isolating meant some temporary shortages across a few products.