It was criticised Friday for not doing enough to help other vital sectors like transport and the emergency services, and being too quick in lifting the coronavirus restrictions in England.
It announced plans to conduct daily COVID-19 testing of food industry workers. This will allow anyone who tests negative to continue to work, even if they are notified via their phones to self isolate because they were in contact with someone with this virus.
This move was made amid growing concern within government about the effects of the so-called "pingdemic" on key sectors of British economy.
Many critics claim that the National Health Service's app has been unfairly singled out. It has been downloaded by over 26 million people in England, Wales and around half of the adult population since its launch last September. They claim it distracts from the fact that the U.K. has just experienced a third wave of pandemics due to the spreading of the more contagious Delta variant and the lifting restrictions.
They claim that the app is only doing its job. Self-isolation continues to be a key weapon against the virus.
Daily infections are expected to increase by at least 100,000 per week, according to the government.
Dr. Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cell microbiology at University of Reading, stated that the best way to reduce pings is to decrease the number of infections.
Many individuals and companies have decided to take matters into their own hands. Evidence is mounting that people are deleting the app and turning off Bluetooth in areas such as hospitals where they might come into contact with someone with COVID-19.
The virus is resurfacing in the U.K. and hundreds of thousands of people including the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are now self-isolating for 10 day after being informed by an app that they had come into contact with someone who had tested positive.
The government's shift in strategy was driven by concerns about food supply. More workers, including key delivery drivers, were being forced to isolate themselves, which led to empty shelves at supermarkets and panic-buying by anxious customers.
According to the government, testing will start this week in priority locations. These include large supermarket distribution centers. Next week, the program will expand to 500 locations. This includes providers of staple foods like bread and dairy products.
Sky News' Environment Secretary George Eustice stated that all employees at key strategic locations, distribution depots, and manufacturing facilities can use the scheme. He also said that there will likely be well over 10,000 people who are eligible.
Retailers were pleased with the new policy, but many suggested that the government reconsider its earlier announced plan to amend the self-isolation laws on Aug. 16, when double-jabbed people will be exempted from the self isolation rules.
Helen Dickinson (chief executive of British Retail Consortium) stated, "It's absolutely crucial that the government makes up lost time and rolls this new scheme out as quickly as possible."
The government released guidance Thursday night that included measures to protect food supplies. It also provided limited exemptions for fully-vaccinated critical employees from 16 sectors, if they are unable to work or have a "major adverse impact" on national security. The guidance has caused confusion in the affected sectors.
The new guidance would allow fully vaccinated employees who provide critical services to be able work and not be isolated if they were named on a current list.
According to the government, the policy does not provide a blanket exemption for all employees of a sector. For example, railway signal operators, upon whom the network relies, may be exempted, but individual train drivers are unlikely.
Unions attacked the government for creating a "mess" by failing to consult before lifting all lockdown restrictions in England.
Frances O'Grady (general secretary of the Trades Union Congress) stated that "the government must be clear about who they classify as critical workers." "The current proposals don’t reflect reality because businesses aren’t isolated entities. They are part of complex supply chain.