'Pingdemic' hits Lancashire's supermarkets as shoppers find shelves empty

Lancashire’s supermarkets are struggling to fill shelves as growing numbers of staff are forced to self-isolate after being pinged by Test and Trace.

Some shoppers say they are struggling to get their hands on certain items, including bread and bottled water, at some local supermarkets.

Supermarket bosses say the ‘pingdemic’ is leading to staff shortages and some supply issues due to warehouse and haulage workers having to self-isolate after Covid exposure alerts from the NHS app.

>>>Click here to read about the thousands 'pinged' in Lancashire

Bare shelves in Lidl, Preston

The Government yesterday announced that supermarket depot workers and food manufacturers will be exempt from quarantine rules as the government tries to prevent food supply problems.

Up to 10,000 staff are expected to qualify for the scheme, but supermarket workers are not included.

It means workers who are alerted by the app or contacted by NHS Test and Trace will be able to continue working if they test negative, whether or not they are vaccinated.

However, supermarket bosses in Lancashire have played down fears of looming food shortages, with a Sainsbury’s spokesman saying pictures of bare shelves are “not representative” and might be “misinterpreted”.

No bottled water in Lidl, Preston.

And the area’s smaller retailers, such as newsagents and corner shops, have said it’s “business as usual” at the moment.

A spokesman for Sainsbury’s said: “The pictures you might see of empty shelves at an individual store are not always representative, but are likely the result of consumer choices due to the heatwave.

“For example, bottled water is in demand with our shoppers because of the hot weather.

“But we are working hard to ensure customers can find what they need. While we might not always have the exact product a customer is looking for in every store, large quantities of products are being delivered to stores daily and our colleagues are focused on getting them onto the shelves as quickly as they can.”

Water in short supply in Tesco, Leyland.

However, Richard Walker, managing director of supermarket giant Iceland, said the firm was having to hire 2,000 temporary workers to prepare for “the exponential rise in pinging”.

Morrisons declined to comment directly on its own staff and supply shortages, but said it is “fully aligned with the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and their statements this week”.

The British Retail Consortium has said that the ongoing ‘pingdemic’ is “putting increasing pressure on retailers’ ability to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked.”

Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at the BRC, added: “Government needs to act fast. Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double vaccinated or can show a negative Covid test, to ensure there is no disruption to the public’s ability to get food and other goods.

“With community cases soaring, the number of healthy retail staff having to self-isolate is rising fast, disrupting retail operations.”

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said the introduction of a daily contact testing scheme for food supply chain workers will help minimise disruption.

She said: “We welcome the Government’s rapid response to this unfolding ‘pingdemic’, which has impacted shops and distribution centres.

“Retailers are working closely with the Government to identify hundreds of key distribution sites that will benefit from the new daily contact testing scheme.

“It is absolutely vital that the Government makes up for lost time and rolls out this new scheme as fast as possible.

“Disruption is limited at the moment, and retailers are monitoring the situation closely. Government will need to continue to listen to the concerns of the retail industry in the coming days and must be prepared to take further action if necessary.”

Smaller retailers:

Corner shops say they have not been affected by the supply chain issues.

Paresh Patel, who runs Jai’s Place in Liverpool Road, Hutton, said his shelves were fully stocked.

He said: “There isn’t a problem for us. I’ve been to two cash and carries this morning and there wasn’t an issue getting hold of anything.

“Supermarkets are reliant on the trucks, so it’s different, but smaller retailers seem to be alright at the moment.”

He added: “I think it’s the same as at the start of the pandemic, when people created the problem by panic buying.”

A spokesman for Kam’s Corner Shop in New Longton also confirmed that they had no supply problems and their shelves wwere fully stocked.

Lancashire Chamber of Commerce:

Geoff Mason from the Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “We haven’t yet been made aware of any supply problems by local businesses, although that isn’t to say they don’t exist or that we won’t see them in the next couple of weeks.

Many businesses have people off either due to Covid or after being ‘pinged’ (over half according to a recent survey by the British Chambers of Commerce).

“While businesses are keen to help prevent the spread of Covid and make sure this re-opening sees an end to lockdowns, they are also desperate for recovery after 16 months of disruption and closures.

“Pilot schemes for ‘test to release’ options have been running for some time now and we would like government to immediately bring forward the results of those test schemes and set out how this could be used to enable more double vaccinated people to avoid self-isolation beyond this narrow group of critical workers.

“Government departments will inevitably face large volumes of requests for exemptions in the coming days. They must live up to their commitment to responding quickly to requests and provide clear and precise guidance as to what individuals and businesses should do, for example with regards to testing.”