The full list of workers exempt from ‘pingdemic’ self-isolation rules has been revealed after fears the country could grind to a halt.
Anyone working in critical sectors – including food and water supply, medicines and public transport – no longer has to spend days under house arrest if they come into contact with a Covid case.
It came as supermarkets urged customers against panic buying in response to reports of empty shelves in shops due to issues around staff self-isolating, with food retailers insisting that gaps in supply will be temporary.
On Thursday, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said ministers were “very concerned” about the so-called “pingdemic” which has seen more than 600,000 people asked to self-isolate due to close contact with a coronavirus case in the past week alone.
Meanwhile, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has laid out plans for a UK-wide NHS Covid pass which will allow people to show their Covid status, such as vaccination status or recent test results.
Millions of people have been forced into self-isolation since restrictions were eased and the Delta Covid variant began spreading.
A record 618,903 alerts were sent to app users in England and Wales in the week to July 14, the latest NHS figures show.
Businesses have been reporting staff shortages in key industries, with food disappearing from supermarket shelves because so many delivery drivers have been pinged.
Workers who meet the criteria will be able to continue working even if they have been told to self-isolate for ten days after coming into contact with a Covid positive person.
But they must have received two jabs of a Covid vaccine and take a PCR test, followed by daily lateral flow tests.
Frontline NHS and social care workers have already been granted exemptions from self-isolation ‘in exceptional circumstances’ to alleviate pressure on hospitals.
The Government has not published a list of essential workers – like it did in the first lockdown – but has identified vital industries.
The sectors included are:
- civil nuclear
- digital infrastructure
- food production and supply
- veterinary medicines
- essential chemicals
- essential transport
- medical devices
- clinical consumable supplies
- emergency services
- border control
- essential defence outputs
- local government
The updated guidance said: “in the small number of situations where the self-isolation of close contacts would result in serious disruption to critical services, a limited number of named workers may be able to leave self-isolation under specific controls for the purpose of undertaking critical work only”.
The government’s guidance states that employers who feel their workers need to be exempt from self-isolation should contact the relevant government department for their sector.
They are also asked to provide information on the number of people who they want to leave self-isolation, the jobs they do and the impact that self-isolation would have on their business.
If a worker is deemed to meet the criteria then their employer will get a letter from the government telling them what measures they now need to follow.
Unless businesses have received a letter like this with the employee specifically named, then the exemption policy does not apply.
“This is not a blanket exemption for all workers in a sector,” the guidance said.
It adds that “in some exceptional cases” there may be critical roles in other sectors which could be agreed on a case-by-case basis.
Separate arrangements are in place for frontline health and care staff.