Supermarket shelves: What is the 'pingdemic' and why are supermarkets low on food?

Is the ‘pingdemic’ the cause of empty supermarket shelves or is the issue more complex?

Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 4:51 pm

Empty supermarket shelves are a grim reminder of the very beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, when panic buying was rife.

The shortage of food on display has been blamed on the so-called ‘pingdemic’ – workers having to self isolate due to coming in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19

But the reasons behind this are being overlooked, and there are other factors at play in the shortage in food at supermarkets.

Why are supermarket shelves empty? (SWNS/Getty)

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What is the ‘pingdemic’ and is it causing empty supermarket shelves?

The Covid contact tracing app has been ‘pinging’ more and more people to tell them to self isolate after being in contact with someone who has tested positive.

This has led to store workers having to self isolate, and supermarkets becoming short staffed. It means they literally can’t get the food onto the shelves fast enough.

This increase in ‘pings’ has been called the ‘pingdemic’ and the app has been accused of being overzealous. But it’s happening because there has been an exponential rise in Covid cases.

Helen Dickinson of the British Retail Consortium told ITV News: “With community cases soaring, the number of healthy retail staff having to self-isolate is rising fast, threatening to disrupt retail operations, and potentially close shops or distribution centres.”

A record 618,903 alerts were sent to Covid app users in England and Wales last week. In Scotland, 50,000 people have been ‘pinged’ in total so far – but the Scottish Government says its app is just as ‘sensitive’ as the English version.

It comes as coronavirus figures have surged since the easing of lockdown across the UK. In England, all restrictions were lifted on ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19, while Scotland moved to Level 0 on the same day.

But pings are not the only cause of empty supermarket shelves.

A shortage of HGV drivers due to Brexit and Covid

The shortage of HGV drivers in the UK has hit ‘catastrophic proportions’, according to the Road Haulage Association (RHA).

The haulage industry says we are short by 100,000 drivers to transport goods – including supermarket food – around the UK.

This is due to increasing demand as lockdown eases, the loss of 12 months of driver training during lockdown, and Brexit making it harder for European drivers to come here.

HGV drivers are not currently on the UK Government’s skilled worker shortage occupation list – a group of essential jobs which the Government makes it easier to live and work in the UK with its new points-based system.

In response to the shortage, the UK Government has changed the rules to allow drivers to stay on the roads for longer. Ministers have recently pledged to work with the industry to attract new drivers from the UK and encourage people to stay in the sector.

But RHA chief executive, Richard Burnett said: “This is a step in the right direction long-term, but it doesn’t address the critical short-term issues we’re facing. The problem is immediate, and we need to have access to drivers from overseas on short-term visas.”

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