Your overview of political and economic news with a focus on the food and consumer goods industry, featuring the latest guidance on COVID-19 and planning for the end of the transition period with the EU.
Back to “normal”
The government is increasingly keen to help citizens transition back to more “normal” lives, whilst managing infection risk. This includes both work and leisure activity – the government’s special programme to stimulate demand in foodservice (ie: Eat Out To Help Out) will run in August.
Guidance for food businesses
Government guidance continues to evolve – the latest iteration of guidance for food businesses (published 22 July) can be found in here. It includes the visual A4 posters which have been translated into nine different languages and a summary of standard operating procedures that can easily be translated into other languages with free to use software.
COVID outbreaks in food businesses
Public Health England (PHE) reports that coronavirus outbreaks in food businesses appear to be stable and under control – no food businesses are reported to be closed due to infections*. The task force comprising Defra, PHE, The Food Standards Agency, The Health and Safety Executive and Environmental Health continues to meet several times each week to review cases and assess the need to update guidance.
The on-farm outbreak reported in Herefordshire in July is under active management. New workers have been brought in and operations have been partly resumed.
Localisation of COVID-19 management
The last week has seen two important evolutions in the management of COVID-19, both signalled in advance by the government.
Firstly, temporary “local lockdowns” have been extended and are now clearly the government’s preferred tool for managing outbreaks Coronavirus in England.
In the last week, Blackburn-with-Darwen and Luton have been affected, but note that the approach is slightly different from that used previously in Leicester.
When Leicester was subjected to local lockdown in June, this took the form of business closures. In the latest changes, no new restrictions were applied – instead, the specified communities were excluded from the easing of national restrictions (e.g. opening of gyms) and from easements planned for later (e.g. opening of casinos).
The government has clarified how national and local government will work together to manage coronavirus at a local level in future.
The government is considering options for developing local lockdowns as a response to any future outbreaks of disease, working mainly within the existing statutory framework.
Face coverings mandatory in shops and take away outlets
The second major change enacted in the last week is a move to make face coverings mandatory for customers in retail outlets and takeaway businesses, with fines for non-compliance (some exemptions are provided and template “exemption cards” have been designed).
This move has proven controversial since it may place store staff in conflict with customers and some businesses have indicated that they are unwilling to enforce the new rules. Note that, unlike shoppers, staff are not currently required to wear coverings (note section six of the guidance).
There has been some confusion as to how the new rule will apply in practice (e.g. requirements for foodservice outlets with both eat-in and takeaway options). This is clarified in section two of the guidance.
The “travel corridor” system, intended to facilitate international travel, has been controversial, with the government removing Spain from the list of “safer” countries at short notice. This means that any British resident currently in Spain will need to self-isolate for 14 days on returning to the UK.
Long-term health strategy
Evidence has shown that excess weight increases vulnerability to COVID-19 as well as other serious illnesses. Therefore, the government is renewing its public health messaging, with an emphasis on weight loss. This is part of a wider campaign supporting a new obesity strategy outlined in the policy paper Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives. A response from IGD’s Head of Nutrition and Scientific Affairs is here.
Meanwhile, the Academy of Medical Sciences has published a new paper outlining possible challenges for the healthcare system over Winter 2020-21, including a resurgence of COVID-19. It urges the government to take all possible steps to prepare and mitigate.
Other policy development
Part One of The National Food Strategy for England is published today and IGD will report on this in due course.
Separate strategies are also under development for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales (food is a “devolved” responsibility).
Little progress on trade talks with the EU
Trade talks between the EU and UK helped last week in London, but participants did not report any breakthrough – the EU negotiator was especially downbeat, although his UK counterpart was also careful to manage expectations. A further round of talks is planned for August, but businesses should not assume that a deal will be struck in time for the end of Transition.
Policy development post-EU
The Border Operating Model (BOM) has received considerable publicity and any business involved in moving goods over the UK border – in either direction – should be aware of this document and any actions then required. Similar guidance on the operation of the UK border with Ireland, expanding on the Northern Ireland Protocol, is still outstanding.
It is clear, however, that the BOM may not be the end state for the UK border – the consultation is under way on a new operating approach planned for 2025 onwards.
* reported as of Friday 24 July