IGD Coronavirus (COVID-19) Food industry update 16 June

Date : 16 June 2020

Following the global outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), IGD is working closely with the UK Government and the food industry. Here is a summary of some of the key developments we have picked up.

Two-metre rule

The Prime Minister has announced that there will be a review into the two-metre social distancing rule. This follows concerns raised by UK hospitality that the two-metre rule would result in outlets making just 30% of normal revenues. A one-metre rule would increase that to 60%-75%.

This follows the publication of the ‘Pathways to recovery’ report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Hospitality and Tourism (see this LINK) and an open letter to the Prime Minister from 90 foodservice firms (see LINK).

Test and Trace

Businesses are continuing to report a very low level of notifications from contact tracers and that engagement with contact tracers has been constructive. However, there have been a small number of reports of guidance being applied inconsistently by tracers, leading to unnecessary self-isolation of employees.

Defra has confirmed that such cases should be escalated to the Local Health Protection Teams (see LINK). These teams are available 24 hours seven days a week.

Public Health England (PHE) has identified a very small number of recent outbreaks of COVID-19 in food production facilities (where there are two or more linked positive tests). PHE is conducting a review over the next week to understand the nature of the contact involved in these outbreaks to help inform discussions around the effectiveness of protective measures such as the use of face visors, and whether these will be considered by contact tracers in any updated guidance. The review will also look seek to understand how these cases compare to outbreaks in other countries with different protective measures.

Concerns have been raised, and clarity is being sought, about the role and authority of various agencies (e.g. Public Health England, The Health and Safety Executive and Environmental Health) in the test and trace process.

See this LINK for full details of how the Test and Trace works

See this LINK for guidance for NHS test and trace: workplace guidance

Staff absence and shielded employees

Companies are now typically reporting absence rates of less than 10% compared to levels of 20% or more at their peak. Absence rates in manufacturing and logistics are reported to be lower than for retailers.

Many businesses are reporting that a significant proportion of their absence rates are due to a higher proportion of employees who are being shielded or are self-isolating for health reasons.

The Department for Health and Social Care has confirmed that the end date of the initial shielding programme is 30 June and that, following a review, an announcement will take place in this week with further guidance for this group. The objective is to move to a risk-based approach to respond to different risk levels within this shielded group.

However, businesses have been advised to plan for the current 12-week period, during which those who are being shielded from coronavirus must stay at home, will be extended into July and possibly August.

It has been announced that those shielding should continue to do so until at least the end of July in Scotland (see LINK) and until 16 August in Wales (see LINK).

Transport

Ports and borders are reported to be functioning well.

Retail grocery volumes in the transport network continue to be significantly higher than the pre-COVID-19 level. General merchandise volumes are improving, though still at lower levels than before.

The overall efficiency of the UK transport network remains impacted by the shutdown of the hospitality sector where is still uncertainty about the scale and speed of recovery over the months ahead.

Concerns have been raised about a backlog of MOTs that will be required for the road haulage industry. Defra is raising this issue with the Department for Transport.

EU Exit

The Prime Minister, who met yesterday with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen virtually, said there was a "very good" chance of getting a trade deal by December. It has been agreed to intensify talks in July.

This follows an announcement by the UK government that it will neither accept nor seek any extension to the transition period for leaving the EU.

The UK has also decided to introduce new border controls with the EU in three stages to give industry extra time to make arrangements (see LINK)

Join IGD’s EU Exit update webinar on 25 June for the latest updates and insights.