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More key workers can seek exemption from isolation

More businesses are being forced to close because of staff shortages

Key workers in a number of key sectors may be allowed exemption from self-isolation to prevent firms running short of staff and supplies.

The Scottish government today confirmed it will join the UK government in allowing essential staff in critical roles to return to work to maintain lifeline services and critical national infrastructure.

It will be possible to apply to exempt those who work in critical roles where staff shortages are in danger of putting essential services, such as health and social care, transport and the provision of food supplies at risk.

Exemption will only be granted in respect of members of staff who voluntarily agree not to self isolate, and the employers’ duty of care to all their employees must be respected.

Strict conditions will apply – staff must be double-vaccinated and in receipt of their second dose at least two weeks previously. They will also require to have a negative PCR test and to agree to undertake daily lateral flow tests.

Applications may be made via the Scottish Government website.

Supermarket-shelves-stripped

Some stores have seen empty shelves

Exemptions will be made on a temporary basis and last only for as long as there is an immediate risk to business or service continuity.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “It is essential that lifeline services and critical national infrastructure are maintained and we are implementing these changes now – ahead of possible changes to self-isolation rules for close contacts that may apply more generally in future – to ensure staff shortages do not put key services at risk.

“We have seen significant staff shortages in a small number of organisations in recent days and we have worked with them to protect services. Applications for exemptions are being considered from today and we will consider applications as they come in.

“Clinical evidence tells us we can safely and effectively release some critical staff from self-isolation, with appropriate safeguards. However, this is a very limited change at this stage, to be applied on a case by case basis and only where absolutely necessary.

“We will not allow key services to be threatened by staff shortages but equally we must continue to protect public health.”

The UK government said yesterday that daily tests would be implemented at 500 sites, such as supermarket depots and food manufacturers. Close to 10,000 staff will be affected.

The move is in response to the pingdemic which has led to many companies curtailing or closing operations as staff have been forced to stay away from work.

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Frozen food chain Iceland said it was hiring 2,000 staff to cover for staff who were self-isolating. Co-op said it was “running low on some products”, and Lidl said the situation was becoming “increasingly difficult” and starting to have an impact on operations.

Pub chain Wetherspoon closed some of its pubs and the BBC is halting production of some of its local news programmes. From Monday, BBC One’s Breakfast programme will not include local news bulletins in the English regions until September.

Sandwich chain Pret has shut 17 outlets, and fast food business Greggs is shuffling staff between some sites to keep them open.

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The new daily contact testing measures will begin at 15 supermarket depots from Friday although supermarket store staff will not be included.

Transport, emergency services, border control, energy, digital infrastructure, waste, the water industry, essential defence outputs and local government will also be given the new classification.

UK Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “We recognise there are some absences in the food supply chain so what we’re announcing is for the top four hundred or so sites, things like supermarket depots, and some of the key food manufacturers.

“We’re going to change the system, and enable them to test and return to work, so somebody who is contacted in future by test and trace or is pinged will be able to have daily contact testing for seven days and be able to carry on working, provided their tests remain negative.”

Mr Eustice added: “We’re still concerned about the level of hospitalisations, so we want to do what’s necessary to get the food supply chain working, but at this stage not go as far as including those stores.”

Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:  “Nearly half of the businesses we surveyed this week have had staff either off sick with Covid or self-isolating in the past two weeks.

“Pilot schemes for ‘test to release’ options have been running for some time now and we would urge the government to immediately bring forward the results of those test schemes and set out how this could be used to enable more double vaccinated people to avoid self-isolation beyond this narrow group of critical workers.”



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