• Saturday, March 25, 2023


‘Pingdemic’ to cause weeks of disruption in food supply and transport; Unions condemn ‘unclear’ exemption plan

Empty supermarket shelves are seen in a supermarket on July 23, 2021 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

By: Pooja Shrivastava

ENGLAND is facing weeks of disruption in bin collection, transport and food supply due to acute staff shortage  caused by ‘pingdemic’, claimed media reports, days after the UK government announced a system to let more key workers in some selected sectors to take daily tests rather than isolate for 10-days.


Amid warnings by business bodies that large parts of the economy might “grind to a halt” due to so-called “pingdemic”, the UK government on Thursday (22) relaxed isolation rules in some selected sectors. 

However, business groups and leaders feel that the government efforts are ambiguous and ineffective and ‘pingdemic’ will continue to disrupt daily lives in the country in the coming weeks, reports said, as rail system, bin collection, food and drink supply expected to be effected badly over next three weeks.

Amid a large amount of their staff in isolation, rail operators are reportedly planning to reduce train services from next week because of staff shortages. 

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), said it was not clear how rail companies will make use of the exemptions scheme – which requires firms to apply to the government with key “named” individuals.

“We are already hearing of planned reductions to rail services next week due to staff shortages,” Lynch said, adding that it could lead to overcrowding in carriages.


Commuters and shoppers opt to continue wearing face coverings on the London Underground system despite it no longer being enforced on July 19, 2021 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Martin Pope/Getty Images)


Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said that while companies are working to “minimise any disruption, there may be an impact on services”  while the Department for Transport said it had agreed to reduced timetables. Transport for London said London Underground’s Circle line and Hammersmith and City line will be closed this weekend due to more than 300 staff self-isolating.

More than 600,000 people in England and Wales were required to isolate by the NHS app last week, as per the latest data.

Under the new guidance announced on Thursday (22), the government has told businesses that they need to get in touch with their relevant government departments if they want named key workers to be excused- something which businesses reportedly are finding mired in red tape and impractical.

Despite being the first in line for exemptions, several food industry groups and executives said the government is not moving quickly enough to tell companies if their workers are exempted.

The British Meat Processors Association said the government urgently needed to publish more information giving “clear, unambiguous guidance on which sites are exempt, which job roles qualify for exemption and exactly how these new rules will be applied”.

Richard Harrow, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation, described the current situation as “worse than useless”, with confusion “continuing to pervade”.

Bin collection, libraries, park maintenance, street cleaning and pot hole maintenance may all be affected over the next three weeks due to staff shortage caused by ‘pingdemic’, reports said.

Trade Union Congress also said the plan published on Thursday night to allow a limited number of “named” critical workers in 16 key fields to avoid self-isolation were confusing.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “The government needs to be clear about who it classes as critical workers. The current proposals don’t reflect the real world because businesses don’t exist in isolation – they are part of complex supply chains.”

Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, also said the current exemptions plan may still leave many firms facing “critical staff shortages and lost revenue,” media reports said.



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