UK 'Pingdemic' puts country's food supply under pressure

UK ‘Pingdemic’ puts country’s food supply under pressure

Grocery stores across the UK said on Thursday some items were scarce and gas stations had been forced to close after the official health app asked hundreds of thousands of workers to self-isolate after contact with a person with Covid-19.

British newspapers carried pictures of empty shelves in supermarkets on the front pages, declaring a “pingemia”.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News the government was “very concerned” about the situation, but did not recognize the network’s characterization of “naked” supermarket shelves. (Sky News is owned by Comcast, the parent company of NBC News.)

With cases of Covid-19 reaching nearly 50,000 days in the UK, hundreds of thousands of people have been advised – or ‘reported’ – by the National Health Service’s contact tracing app to self-isolate for 10 days.

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The resulting drastic downsizing has wreaked havoc on industries as diverse as food supply, transportation, supermarkets, hospitality, manufacturing and media.

To avoid disruption, many people have deleted the app from their phone.

Sainsbury’s, Britain’s second-largest grocer, said customers may not be able to find the exact product they want.

“Large quantities of products are delivered to stores daily and our colleagues are focused on getting them on the shelves as quickly as possible,” said a spokesperson.

Retailer Iceland said it has closed a number of stores due to understaffing.

BP said it had to temporarily close a handful of gas stations due to a lack of fuel, with a shortage of heavy truck drivers exacerbated by Covid-19 isolations.

A meat industry body said on Wednesday that food supply chains were “on the verge of failure” as the Covid-19-related absences had exacerbated an already critical labor shortage.

Official data showed the app asked nearly 620,000 people to self-isolate in England and Wales in the week to July 14.

Government ministers say it is playing an important role in tackling the spread of the virus, which has killed around 129,000 people in Britain – the seventh highest death toll in the world.

They allowed some workers in critical roles to continue working, even when they were “pinged”.

Infections have been on the rise in Britain for several weeks. But a vaccination program that saw 88 percent of adults receive one dose of the vaccine and more than 69 percent two doses appears to have weakened the link between infections and deaths, with daily deaths remaining relatively low.