The exemption will only apply to some fully vaccinated workers employed in a number of key industries, as rising infections and the end of lockdown combine to cause disruption in the supply chains of factories, supermarkets and meat processing plants among others.
The government has stressed that it is not a “blanket exemption” for all workers in a sector, but instead only applies to named employees in a specifically approved workplaces who have had their final vaccine dose at least 14 days ago.
Others will have to continue to self-isolate as normal after being identified as a close contact of a person infected with Covid-19.
The sectors include energy, civil nuclear, digital infrastructure, food production and supply, waste, water, veterinary medicines, essential chemicals, essential transport, medicines, medical devices, clinical consumable supplies, emergency services, border control, essential defence outputs, and local government.
Employers will need to write to relevant government departments to have applications for exemption signed off. The government will then send out letters to some workplaces naming employees working in critical areas whose absence would seriously affectedly the delivery of essential services or other “functionings of the state”, including national security.
The government guidance published on Thursday said the policy “will not cover all or in most cases even the majority of workers in critical sectors”.
Workers who are exempt will be allowed to leave quarantine to travel to work and do their jobs after a negative daily test, but must otherwise continue to stay at home. If they test positive, they must immediately enter quarantine.
The policy is expected to be in place until 16 August, when a wider easing of self-isolation rules will be introduced to allow all fully vaccinated people to avoid quarantining after contact with Covid-19.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said: “Throughout this global pandemic, critical workers across the country have been doing the extraordinary by delivering vital services - from policing the streets to keeping our transport links open.
“These individuals form the backbone of many of our most vital services and, as we learn to live with this virus, its right we do everything in our power to protect services from disruption by allowing our fully vaccinated critical workers to keep doing their important work.”
Separately, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced a new testing scheme for food industry workers – allowing staff deemed critical to the supply chain to avoid self-isolation if “pinged”.
Following an emergency meeting with supermarket bosses on Thursday, ministers said sites for daily testing would be set up this week – including at the biggest supermarket distribution centres – to allow staff to keep coming into work if they test negative.
The moves come amid warnings from trade bodies and industry leaders that the ‘pingdemic’, which is accompanying the pandemic, is triggering staff shortages in vital areas include retail and the NHS. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said on Thursday that the shortages were “putting increasing pressure on retailers’ ability to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked”.
Meanwhile the British Meat Processors’ Association (BMPA) has said that 5 per cent to 10 per cent of staff in some plants have been forced to isolate, compounding existing staff shortages caused by factors including Brexit.
Around 70 per cent of adults have now received two vaccine doses.
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