The Government has announced a list of sectors where workers might be exempt from the so-called pingdemic amid criticism about lack of clarity and staffing problems.
The Government has announced 16 key sectors including health, transport and energy where workers in England may be exempt from isolating if they have come into contact with a person who tests positive for Covid.
The key sectors are energy, civil nuclear, digital infrastructure, food production and supply, waste, water, veterinary medicines, essential chemicals, essential transport, medicines, medical devices, clinical consumable supplies, emergency services, border control, essential defence and local government. Supermarket warehouse staff have also been added to the list as have various other workers, including rubbish collectors, vets and tax collectors, and test centres have been set up across the country.
Workers from other sectors may also be exempt, but this will be judged on a case by case basis. Similarly, not all workers in the 16 sectors will be exempt – it will depend on whether their role is critical to delivering services. Those who are exempt will also need a negative PCR test and must do daily lateral flow tests for 10 days.
The Government will also roll out a testing regime to as many as 500 food-related workplaces “so that contacts who would otherwise be self-isolating can instead take daily tests.” The new daily contact testing measures will begin at 15 supermarket depots this week, followed by 150 depots next week, but it will not apply to supermarket store staff.
The move follows criticism about lack of clarity about the exemptions as a shortage of workers causes logistical problems in a range of industries, including food supply, transport and the NHS.
Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, said earlier in the week that there was a lot of confusion about what employers could do and who might be exempt. “The process is unclear and appears to contain so much red tape that it may put employers off from applying for their worker to be excused from isolating,” she stated.
IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed) called the list too narrow and called for the Government to expand its list of exempt industries to include double-vaccinated people in self-employed dominated-industries such as construction, building trades and transport drivers. It said the current list ‘fails to take into account working situations, thus leaving many freelancers who cannot work from home standing to lose significant income”.
The Early Years Alliance also criticised the fact that early years is not included in the exemptions. Neil Leitch, Early Years Alliance chief executive, said: “We are aware that the number of early years staff being asked to self-isolate is having a detrimental impact on providers’ ability to offer the essential early care and education that parents rely on. That includes the children of those key workers being asked to leave isolation for the purposes of keeping our essential services running.
“Since July of last year, the early years sector has been considered essential. So essential that even when schools closed, our settings were asked to remain open to all children – in spite of the risks to providers and their families – to ensure the country continued to run. That’s why it is absurd that government would not now include those same people in this exemption for critical workers.”