Your overview of political and economic news with a focus on the food and consumer goods industry, featuring the latest developments and guidance on COVID-19 and adapting to a new relationship with the EU.
Absence rates due to the new variant of COVID-19, which have been rising recently, are reported to be plateauing.
COIVID-19 outbreaks in food settings
There has been an increase in the number of outbreaks of COVID-19 in food settings since November. The majority of these outbreaks are relatively small and are reportedly being managed well.
It is important to continue to adhere to the principles of managing an outbreak including cohorting, risk assessments and maintaining social distancing within the workplace.
The government continues to progress the expansion of mass testing to help stop the spread of COVID-19. This follows the recent introduction of asymptomatic testing across all local authorities in England targeted at people who cannot work from home.
Businesses with 50 or more employees in England will be able to apply to take part in workplace testing. New guidance and communications are expected in the next few days. This is expected to include links to training materials and questions and answers.
More information is expected shortly on the timetable for the further roll out of community based and home-based testing for employees who cannot work from home. Around half of local authorities in England are already operating community-based testing.
Northern Ireland restrictions
The Northern Ireland Executive has announced that the current COVID-19 restrictions will be extended until 5 March. This will be reviewed on 18 February.
£290m has been allocated to help Northern Ireland businesses, education, tourism and transport during the next phase of the lockdown. £16m has been allocated to support the tourism and hospitality sectors.
Defra has reported positive results from pilots to test groupage based on a linear sequencing of sealed consignments to avoid multiple checks and delays at ports. Defra is expected to issue further guidance next week following a review by the European Commission.
This follows reported challenges in moving mixed loads both to Northern Ireland and the rest of the EU. The complexity and volume of paperwork required for consolidated loads can be very significant.
Another proposed model involves a hub and spoke approach whereby mixed loads are consolidated and checked at a final point before movement to the EU or Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland – Prohibitions and Restricted Goods
As part of the agreement reached between the UK and EU, there is a grace period of six months to enable the movement of prohibited and restricted (P&R) meat products between GB and Northern Ireland. Documentation requirements were expected to be introduced in three stages.
From 1 January a P&R attestation form signed by an official in the business is required for these products (stage 1). It was expected that and from 25 January a P&R Certificate would be required, signed by an Official Veterinarian (OV) or competent authority (stage 2).
It has now been confirmed that the time period for stage one certification requirements has been extended and P&R Certificate requirements (stage 2) will no longer come into effect on 25 January 2021.This is to allow traders more time to prepare for the requirements in the next stage.
Defra continues to discuss the phasing in of requirements with the European Commission. Further guidance is expected shortly.
See the Moving Goods from GB to NI Trader Showcase site
Expedited return scheme
The new Expedited Return Scheme has been passed into law. Under the scheme supermarket lorries returning to Europe will be prioritised at the border to avoid any food shortages. These measures are only intended to be used in an emergency if congestion to Dover exceeds eight hours and deliveries to UK supermarkets fall below 75% of expectations for two consecutive days.
The scheme only covers vehicles supplying food to Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, Aldi, Co-op, Lidl, Waitrose and M&S, and will not exceed 300 permits per day.
EU Exit support for businesses
The UK government has issued guidance specifically for food and drink businesses.
IGD has also provided additional support to help businesses with EU Exit. Businesses may also wish to refer to the EU EXIT Foodhub, an FAQ website for food and drink businesses