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A customer looks at the exhausted ice cream stock in a Lidl supermarket.
A dramatic increase in Covid-19 cases is forcing hundreds of thousands of workers to stay at home in Britain, causing food and gasoline shortages and considerable stress on supply chains already strained by Brexit.
Some of Britain’s biggest supermarkets warned on Thursday that they were unable to stock certain products and service station operators admitted some of their pumps were running dry.
“We are having fuel supply issues at some of our UK retail locations and have unfortunately seen a handful of locations temporarily shut down due to a lack of unleaded and diesel grades,” BP said. (BP) in a press release.
BP said the “vast majority” of its shortages were resolved within a day. He blamed a lack of truck drivers in the UK and said he was forced to temporarily close a fuel distribution terminal because workers were isolating themselves after potential exposure to the coronavirus.
UK workers are required to self-isolate at home for 10 days if they test positive for the virus or if the National Testing and Traceability Service tells them to do so, which alerts people via a ‘ping’ app if they have been in close contact with a person who tested positive.
New cases of the coronavirus in the country are approaching 50,000 a day, and around 620,000 people in England and Wales have been asked to isolate by the app from July 8 to July 14, according to data from the National Health Service (NHS).
Retailers say the high number of lone workers is preventing them from fully stocking their shelves.
A spokesperson for the Lidl supermarket chain said a staff shortage “was starting to impact our operations.”
“Like all other retailers, the situation is getting more and more difficult as we have more and more colleagues who have to isolate themselves after being warned by the Track and Trace system,” said the spokesperson.
Another major supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s (JSAIY), said it was “working hard to make sure customers can find what they need”. A spokesperson for the Co-op grocery chain said it was “running out of some products” but “working closely with our suppliers” to restock the shelves.
The rise in the number of virus cases – and the subsequent rise in the number of lone workers – is also worsening the truck driver shortage caused in part by Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Rod McKenzie, Director General of Policy and Public Affairs to the Road Haulage Association (RHA), said the UK faces a shortage of around 100,000 truck drivers, 20,000 of whom are EU nationals who left the country after Brexit. He said increased red tape at border crossings following Brexit was also preventing European drivers from traveling to the UK.
“If the ‘pingemia’ hadn’t happened, we would still be in trouble,” he told CNN Business.
McKenzie told CNN Business he spoke to a British farmer who could only find one truck a week to haul fruit, instead of the five needed.
“It’s a dire situation,” McKenzie said.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News on Thursday the government would release a new list of essential workers eligible for the self-isolation exemption “very soon” but warned it would be “quite narrow “. He said the UK government was monitoring shortages in supermarkets.
“Amid a crippling staff shortage, speed is essential,” Karan Bilimoria, president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said in a statement.
– Hanna Ziady contributed to this report.