Wholesalers welcome self-isolation U-turn but say more must be done to protect food supply

27 July 2021 by
Wholesalers welcome self-isolation U-turn but say more must be done to protect food supply

Food wholesalers have responded to the government's announcement that daily on-site Covid-19 contact testing will replace self-isolation for key workers with a mixture of relief and frustration.

The government initially announced the scheme to be exclusively for supermarket staff, but the significant U-turn will mean the food and drink supply to hospitals, care homes, prisons and other public sector facilities will not be interrupted. Thousands of pubs, restaurants and independent shops will also get the stock they need for their shelves and menus.

James Bielby, chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD), said: "The government had taken a step in the right direction. The initial announcement was chaotic and demonstrated that ministers are influenced by supermarkets above all else.

"It's astonishing that the initial plan for food distributors to hospitals, prisons and care homes was to request exemptions for their depot staff and drivers, with the daily contact scheme closed to our sector.

"For pubs and restaurants that have barely traded over the last 16 months to be told that they are free to open fully but then possibly deny them the stock they need to do so – it's been a complete muddle and demonstrates a poor understanding of just how important the wholesale sector is in supplying vital public services, independent hospitality venues, and shops in remote locations where there are no supermarkets for miles around.

"The proposal doesn't necessarily help smaller businesses, because on-site testing requires a commitment of staff and space. It will be a challenge for cash and carry depots, for example. But we now have a process in place whereby we can keep people working, keep the wheels turning, keep food on shelves and on menus – and that's a significant improvement on where we were a week ago.

"The fact that the government has put something in place at speed means they've finally listened to the wider food distribution industry. The devil is in the detail, of course, but government is listening. We're optimistic that a workable solution is on its way."

Photo: Yau Ming Low/shutterstock.com

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