The Iceland boss said it was not necessary for people to start panicking buying, but warned that a growing number of retail workers forced into self-isolation risked closing stores .
Managing Director Richard Walker said the photographs of empty shelves in supermarkets were “isolated incidents”.
While there have been “some uptime issues,” he said, “our supply chains are resilient.”
But he said the government must exempt retail staff from isolation.
Iceland, M&S and other companies have said a growing number of employees have been ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid-19 app, meaning they have to self-isolate for 10 days. Companies want people doubly vaccinated or tested daily to be able to return to work.
However, the government says it is crucial that people isolate themselves when asked to do so to stop the spread of the virus.
Many front pages of Thursday’s newspapers featured images of empty shelves at some supermarket branches – some depicting panicking buying certain items – but industry sources told the BBC that so far, food shortages were not a systemic problem.
Mr Walker told the BBC’s Today program: “There is certainly no problem with supplying inventory and there is absolutely no need for people to panic to buy.
“We certainly don’t want to go back to the dark days of April 2020 because panic buying is only an option for those who can afford it and it often means others are going without it.”
But he said “the people who should be panicking are the government” because of the growing number of workers “pinched” by the NHS enforcement.
Around 1,000 Icelandic employees – nearly 4% of its staff – were currently absent for reasons related to Covid, with the north of England the most affected.
Of these, 27% tested positive for Covid, while 64% were ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app and ordered to isolate.
Mr Walker said: “It could get worse a lot faster unless the tracking and tracing system is fixed.”
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said stores were facing increasing pressure as they tried to keep shelves stocked with a growing number of employees self-isolating.
He said ministers must “act quickly” and allow fully vaccinated retail workers or those who have tested negative for Covid to go to work.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at BRC, said the growing number of workers being asked to isolate by the NHS Covid app “was putting increasing pressure on the ability of retailers to maintain opening hours and stocking shelves “.
He called for retail staff and suppliers to be allowed to go to work if they were doubly vaccinated or tested negative for Covid “to ensure there is no disruption in the capacity of the public to obtain food and other goods “.
“With cases in the community skyrocketing, the number of healthy retail staff needing to self-isolate is increasing rapidly, disrupting retail operations,” he added.
Mr Opie said a decline in the number of available heavy truck drivers, exacerbated by the growing number of individuals being forced into self-isolation, “was also causing minor disruption to some supply chains.”
The Road Haulage Association estimates there is a shortage of 100,000 heavy truck drivers in the UK due to workers returning to Europe after Brexit as well as delays in carrier testing for Covid.
Meanwhile, the British Meat Processor’s Association said some members are seeing between 5% and 10% of their workforce “pinged” by the app.
He said the shortage of workers affected products that required more manpower to produce, meaning those lines would be cut first.
Staff shortages due to isolation rules have impacted sectors such as hospitality, transport and the NHS.
BP said on Wednesday that the shortage of truck drivers and the isolation of staff had caused fuel supply problems at some of its gas stations.
The oil company said shortages of unleaded petrol and diesel resulted in the temporary shutdown of a “handful” of its UK sites.
Dozens of councils across England have also been forced to suspend garbage collection due to staff self-isolation.
Earlier this week, the government announced that a “small number” of fully immunized critical workers, including health and care workers, would be allowed to continue doing their jobs even if they were in close contact with a woman. person tested positive for Covid.
But the prime minister said he did not want to extend the exemption too widely in order to limit the spread of the virus.
The government argued that it was necessary to keep the isolation rules largely unchanged until August 16.
From that date, fully vaccinated people and those under the age of 18 will be able to avoid self-isolation by taking daily Covid tests.
Under current self-isolation rules in England, anyone identified as close contact of a confirmed positive case must self-isolate for 10 days, whether or not they have received both doses of a vaccine.
If someone is isolated by NHS Test and Trace, they are legally required to do so.
But if someone is “pinged” by the NHS Covid app, the requirement to self-isolate is just a notice.
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