Supermarket staff could be exempt from self-isolation after being ‘pinged’, says Downing Street

Around 1 million already off work after being identified as contacts of Covid-positive individuals

Coronavirus in numbers

Supermarket workers could be given an exemption from self-isolating after being notified by the Covid app, Downing Street has said.

Essential retail staff are among a list of fully-vaccinated key workers who could be told they can ignore the smartphone “ping” telling them to stay home, alongside healthcare staff, utility workers, border officials, transport workers and nuclear power plant employees.

Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said the government is not expecting to produce a list detailing precisely which categories of worker will benefit from the exemption - designed to prevent vital parts of the economy grinding to a halt as coronvirus infections soar.

Instead, employees will be expected to contact government departments to seek exemptions for certain types of staff.

Increasing numbers of businesses are struggling with absences as over a million Britons are currently self-isolating due to suspected contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.

Frontline NHS staff are already in line to be given a special exemption should they be “pinged” by the app.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “It’s not a blanket exemption and my understanding is we’re not going to be producing a list covering individual sectors, these business-critical areas will be able to apply for exemptions to their host departments.

“There won’t be a list covering individual sectors… it’s important that anyone who feels they’re in a critical industry or wants to raise potential issues because of isolation are able to contact departments and get advice and where necessary get exemptions.”

Asked specifically about supermarket workers, he said: “We’re not seeking to draw lines specifically around who or who is not exempt. What’s important is to make sure critical services are able to function and get that balance right between requiring people to isolate… but also making sure critical services can function.”

The assistant general secretary of the Unite union, Steve Turner, said “mixed messages” from the government suggested ministers were “flying by the seat of their pants” on keeping the economy open amid the “pingdemic”. He warned that clear guidance and assistance was needed urgently to keep manufacturing plants open.

“For plants to remain open now and in the months ahead, there needs to be faster testing, the continuation of free lateral flow tests for employers, a statutory sick pay rate that means people will actually stay off if ill and the extension of the furlough scheme,” said Mr Turner.

“All these things are needed to get the country, which is now leading the world for infection rates, through the next wave of the virus.

“Unfortunately, the mixed messages emanating from government gives a strong impression that ministers are flying by the seat of their pants. We need strong thoughtful leadership to prevent public health being put at risk while keeping UK PLC open, because we will all suffer if the government continues to make things up as it goes along.”

Layla Moran , chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said: “The government has dismantled our defences against the virus and is now busy undermining one of the final tools left in our armoury to fight it.

“We need urgent clarity from the government to repair the damage being done to public trust and compliance with self-isolation rules.

“It’s clear that lessons are still not being learned about the importance of clear, consistent messaging during a pandemic.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in