The government is “very concerned” about the number of people pinged by the NHS app, the business secretary has told Sky News.
In a speech to Kay Burley, Kwasi Kwarteng said ministers were “monitoring” the situation and “soon” will draw up a list of exempt critical workers with the expectation that it will be published on Thursday.
Live COVID updates from the UK and around the world
“The list of exceptions will be pretty narrow because, of course, you have to draw the line somewhere,” he said.
Downing Street said earlier this week that it would not “produce a list covering individual sectors”, where employers should instead turn to government departments to allow workers to circumvent the company effectively COVID-19 rules on isolation.
His comments come as retailers warns that they are under “increasing pressure” to keep the shelves filled up with a shortage of staff caused by the “pingdemikken”.
Industry executives have warned that supply chains are “starting to fail” due to the number of workers, including truck drivers and meat processing staff, being pinged by the NHS COVID-19 app.
Some shoppers have posted pictures on social media of empty supermarket shelves in parts of the country.
The British retail consortium (BRC) has now called on the government to change the self-insulation guidelines to help solve the problem.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at BRC, said store staff and suppliers should be allowed to work even if they are warned to isolate for 10 days.
The National Police Chiefs Council has also said so police response times are “under load” as some forces are dealing with staff shortages.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said on Tuesday that the exemption would be determined on a case-by-case basis, with employers having to approach the relevant government department to see if their workers can continue to work after being identified as close contacts with someone there. has tested positive for COVID.
The spokesman said it could include certain workers in the food industry, utilities, border staff and the NHS, but there is no general exemption for sectors.
There have been growing demands in recent weeks for changes to the rules on isolation, amid warnings that the number of people being asked to quarantine has a crippling effect on businesses.
Being pinged by the app means you have to isolate for 10 days – but unlike being contacted by Test and Trace, it is guidance rather than legal mandate.
The latest figures show that over 500,000 people were pinged by the app in the week leading up to July 7, leading to concerns that millions could be forced out of work when coronavirus cases rise.
As the number of cases is expected to increase over the summer, there are fears that people will delete the app a lot to avoid being told to isolate.
There have been calls for the sensitivity of the app to be adjusted, but the government has ruled this out.
Boris Johnson, who isolates himself after being identified as a close contact with COVID-positive health secretary Sajid Javid, has said isolation is “one of the only shots we have left in our closet to stop the spread chain reaction” by COVID.
“I’m afraid that at this point it’s simply a consequence of living with COVID and opening up when things are high as we are,” he said.
From 16 August, under-18s and people who have been fully vaccinated will no longer be asked to isolate themselves if they come into close contact with someone who has tested positive.
Instead, they are encouraged to take a test. Anyone who tests positive will still be legally required to isolate, regardless of their vaccine status.