The Government has expanded its workplace Covid testing scheme for England to allow more keyworkers to avoid isolation amid rising anger over the so-called “pingdemic”.
Workers at supermarket depots and food manufacturers were initially included in the Government’s scheme, and this has now been expanded to allow police officers, firefighters, Border Force staff, transport and freight workers to join, the BBC reported.
Those workers were already eligible for exemption if employers supplied their names and they had received both doses of a vaccination.
But those included will now be able to keep working despite being “pinged” by the NHS Covid app or contacted by Test and Trace – whether or not they are vaccinated – as long as they test negative each day.
A negative lateral flow test next to advice from the NHS Covid app to self-isolate
(Image: PA Images)
The Government initially announced testing would be carried out at 15 sites from next week, but has now expanded the scheme with plans to open 200 sites.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Daily testing will keep our frontline teams safe while they continue to serve the public and communities across our country.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid added: “Daily contact testing of workers in these critical sectors will help to minimise any disruption caused by rising cases in the coming weeks, while ensuring staff are not put at risk.”
More than 600,000 people in England and Wales were told to quarantine by the NHS app in the week to July 14.
Industry leaders have criticised the Government for not widening the exemptions further.
British Frozen Food Federation chief executive Richard Harrow raised concerns that more workers may be freed up in some areas of the supply chain but not others such as in supermarkets.
Empty shelves at a Sainsbury’s store
(Image: PA Images)
He said: “It shows that yet again Government does not understand how connected the food supply chain is. Only opening part is unlikely to solve the overall issue. Plus, who is in and who is out, who decides and how do they decide?”
Iceland managing director Richard Walker said he was “deeply disappointed to see supermarket store workers omitted from the list”.
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “We now face a summer of venue closures and reduced service, when we should be at a seasonal peak. The sector will do all it can to provide great service, but it will be with one hand tied behind our back.
“Those who are fully vaccinated should be able to test after a ping and, subject to a negative result, carry on with their lives. For those not fully vaccinated two negative tests should be sufficient to return to work.”
Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK
(Image: PA Graphics)
The mounting criticism came as data from the Office for National Statistics showed Covid-19 cases continued to rise, with around one in 75 people in England infected.
The estimate of the number testing positive – 741,700 – in the week to July 17 is the highest since the week to January 30.
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