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MINISTERS were forced into yet another screeching U-turn today over key-worker exemptions from self-isolation rules, as the “pingdemic” cripples industries and leaves supermarket shelves lying empty.
On Tuesday, Downing Street said that it would not publish a list of sectors whose fully vaccinated workers could avoid quarantine if alerted by the NHS Covid-19 app that they had come into contact with an infected person.
But, as workplaces begin to report “untenable” staff shortages as infection rates skyrocket, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng bowed to pressure today and said that the government would publish a list imminently.
A record number of “pings” was sent by the app last week, with NHS figures showing 618,903 alerts were received by users in England and Wales in the week to July 14.
Mr Kwarteng called on shoppers not to panic buy, as an ongoing lack of delivery drivers and the hot weather combines with the pandemic to leave supermarket aisles bare.
In response, retail union Usdaw said that ministers must immediately reintroduce mandatory face coverings and social distancing in enclosed public spaces to protect staff and bring infection rates down.
And transport union RMT warned any workers made exempt from quarantine rules could be placed at greater risk, and called for detailed risk assessments to be carried out before any change.
“There is a real danger of a headlong rush into these new measures driven by this inept government which could make a bad situation even worse,” general secretary Mick Lynch stressed.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth branded the crisis “inevitable” after ministers let Covid-19 run out of control.
He said: “Infections running at more than 50,000 a day. Possibly 100,000. If [ministers] want to avoid shutting society down, [they] need to bring infection down.”
After Chancellor Rishi Sunak blocked reforms to statutory sick pay this week — which could have benefited two million workers who do not currently earn enough to qualify for it — the TUC called on ministers to properly support those required to stay at home.
General secretary Frances O’Grady said key workers “shouldn’t be forced to choose between doing the right thing and being plunged into financial hardship.
“Staff shortages will continue to get worse unless the government fixes our broken sick pay system.”
Parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt
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