Daily Covid testing to replace isolation for UK food processing workers

It’s hoped a new Covid-19 testing regime rolled out across UK meat plants will help ease staff shortages exacerbated by isolation rules.

Environment Secretary George Eustice and Health Secretary Sajid Javid today (July 23) outlined plans for daily testing to replace isolation for those who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive.

The food industry has been prioritised in the roll-out of the new targeted testing plans as part of the government’s close engagement with the sector.

‘Pingdemic’

It comes just a few weeks after the British Meat Processors Association warned as many as one in 10 workers had been told to isolate by the NHS app. It comes amid wider claims of a ‘pingdemic’ – a so-called epidemic of the NHS app notifications – resulting in significant numbers of people being asked to isolate.

The UK meat industry currently employs an estimated 97,000 people, but staff shortages had been reported as far back as early 2020, before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

At a roundtable with supermarket leaders, the UK government committed to putting in place actions to support the resilience of the food supply chain and supermarket leaders downplayed fears of shortages saying problems were not widespread.

How will the new Covid testing scheme work?

Following clinical trial results, daily contact testing will be rolled out to critical workplaces in the food supply chain so that contacts who would otherwise be self-isolating can instead take daily tests.

It will mean all workers who have received NHS Covid-19 app alert to isolate or have been called by Test and Trace will be able to continue working if they test negative.

Priority testing sites have already been identified with the industry for urgent implementation this week, including the largest supermarket distribution centres, with rollout to up to 500 sites planned to start next week.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Food businesses across the country have been the hidden heroes of the pandemic. We are working closely with the industry to allow staff to go about their essential work safely with daily testing.

The last 18 months have demonstrated that we have a highly resilient food supply chain. There are sufficient food supplies in the system and people can and should shop as normal.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid added: “Throughout this global pandemic, workers in our food and drink sectors have overcome enormous challenges and done everything they can to keep our shelves stocked and our fridges full.

“As we manage this virus and do everything we can to break chains of transmission, daily contact testing of workers in this vital sector will help to minimise the disruption caused by rising cases in the coming weeks, while ensuring workers are not put at risk.”