UK food supply chains ‘on the edge of failing,’ meat industry says

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s food supply chains are “right on the edge of failing” as absence related to COVID-19 has aggravated a critical shortage of labor, a meat industry body said on Wednesday.

The British Meat Processors’ Association (BMPA) said the shortage of skills was so critical, some plants had reported vacancies of 10% to 16% of permanent positions, discounting the impact of the pandemic.

“On top of the underlying worker shortage, we’re also hearing from some members that between 5% and 10% of their workforce have been ‘pinged’ by the (health service) app and asked to self-isolate,” BMPA CEO Nick Allen said.

The shortage of workers affected the meat products that require more labor to produce, he said, meaning those lines would be the first to be cut.

On Monday, England’s car plants, railways, supermarkets and pubs warned the government that the COVID-19 tracing app, which has told hundreds of thousands of workers to isolate, was wrecking the recovery and pushing supply chains to the brink of collapse.

Alerts, or “pings,” from the official app telling anyone identified as a contact of someone with the disease to self-isolate for 10 days have also disrupted schools and the healthcare system.

The government has announced exemptions for some workers identified as critical, including health and transport workers, but says it does not plan widespread rule changes.

Pictures on social media showed gaps on supermarket shelves as the so-called “pingdemic” is putting pressure on retailers’ ability to maintain opening hours and stock shelves.

Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at industry lobby group, the British Retail Consortium, said the government needed to act swiftly.

“Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double vaccinated or can show a negative COVID test, to ensure there is no disruption to the public’s ability to get food and other goods,” he said.

(Reporting by James Davey; editing by Barbara Lewis)

Russia reports record 737 COVID-19 deaths, changes entry rules

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday reported a record 737 deaths from coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours as the country stepped up efforts to vaccinate its population of more than 144 million people.

A new surge in COVID-19 cases in June was blamed on the new, highly infectious, Delta variant. Moscow responded with mandatory vaccination for a wide group of citizens, a model adopted by other regions, sparking wide public discontent ahead of September parliamentary elections.

Health minister Mikhail Murashko said up to 850,000 people were being vaccinated against COVID-19 in Russia every day, and that building immunity across the population was key, the TASS new agency reported.

Murashko said foreign producers of COVID-19 vaccines had applied to register in Russia, without disclosing their names.

Russia has so far offered its own vaccines against the novel coronavirus, launching a mass vaccination campaign in late 2020.

From Wednesday, Russia will change the rules for citizens returning from abroad, scrapping the obligation to undergo two PCR tests upon arrival, a decree published on Tuesday and signed by Anna Popova, head of the consumer health watchdog, showed.

From July 7, all those vaccinated or officially recovered from COVID-19 do not need to take a PCR test. Those who do not fall into these two categories when they enter Russia, will need to self-isolate before receiving results of one PCR test.

In the past day, Russia has confirmed 23,378 new COVID-19 cases, including 5,498 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 5,658,672.

The Kremlin said it would not support the idea of closing borders between Russia’s regions to stop the virus from spreading, although some regions may take swift and harsh measures to withstand the pandemic.

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases, along with the need to raise interest rates to combat inflation, are seen challenging economic growth in Russia this year.

(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh and Gleb Stolyarov; additional reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Catherine Evans, William Maclean)