UK Covid live news: Eustice says 10,000 food industry staff will benefit from exemption from isolation

Good morning. George Eustice, the environment secretary, said this morning that more than 10,000 people working in the food supply industry will benefit from a scheme to use daily testing as an alternative to isolation. It means that if staff are pinged by the NHS Covid app, or told to isolate by test and trace, because they have been in contact with someone testing positive, they will be able to stay at work provided they test negative. Announcing the scheme last night, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:

Daily contact testing [ie, testing for people who are contacts of people testing positive] 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.

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

The move will allow daily testing for staff to take place so they can continue their vital work to supplying food for the nation.

Explaining the impact of the plan this morning, Eustice said:

We’ve identified close to 500 key sites, that includes around 170 supermarket depots, and then another couple of hundred key manufacturers like our bread manufacturers, dairy companies and so on.

All of the people working in those key strategic sites, distribution depots and those manufacturing facilities will be able to use this scheme, and probably well over 10,000 people.

Confusingly, the scheme was announced at the same time as the government gave details of a separate plan to allow critical workers in 16 key sectors to also use testing as an alternative to isolation. But this is not a blanket policy; it will only apply to selected named individuals, after their employers have got permission for them to be included from the relevant government department.

In interviews this morning, Eustice defended the decision to keep the scope of the second scheme, covering critical workers, limited. Asked why the government was not allowing supermarket store staff, for example, to be able to use testing as an alternative to isolation in the way supermarket depot staff will be able to, he said the government wanted to stick with isolation as the policy for most people. He said:

Well, the main reason is that would be a really significant undertaking, as you’re talking then thousands of different shops, and many more people, and we still want to maintain the test, trace and isolate system.

We know that the most important thing is to ensure that those main arteries in our food supply chain keep working, that the lorries keep going from depots to get goods to store and that the food manufacturers can continue to manufacture the goods to get it to the depots.

When you get to store level, of course, yes, there will be some difficulties, they will have staff shortages. But it is easier to manage at that level.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: The ONS publishes figures on the social impact of coronavirus.

12pm: The ONS publishes its weekly Covid infection survey.

Afternoon: The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies is expected to release a fresh batch of background papers.

And today the Scottish government is expected to release details of its own changes to isolation rules.

Politics Live has been a mix of Covid and non-Covid news recently and that will probably be the case today. For more coronavirus developments, do follow our global Covid live blog.

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