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Published on July 23rd, 2021 | by The GC Team

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Ping pong ding dong: who’s on the list?

With MPs off on their hols and our Leader in splendid isolation at a 16th century country estate with extensive gardens, the Government has hastily applied another sticking-plaster to the tatters of its Covid “plan” as yet another “unforeseen circumstance”, in the shape of a suddenly efficient app that is “pinging” hundreds of thousands of workers into self-isolation, is threatening to empty supermarket shelves and wreck the country’s critical infrastructure.

There was talk of adjusting the sensitivity of the app to create fewer pings, but in the end the favoured solution – announced by Mr Johnson yesterday – was to compile a list of “critical” sectors whose workers could apply, under strict conditions, to be exempted from self-isolation if pinged by the app.

There are 12 such critical sectors on the Government list:

Energy

Civil nuclear

Digital infrastructure

Food production

Waste

Water

Veterinary medicines

Essential chemicals

Essential transport

Medicines

Medical devices

Clinical consumable supplies

On the face of it a set of extremely broad and generalised sectors, and not requiring any great genius to compile. One could almost imagine it being thought up whilst puffing around the grounds of Chequers with one’s personal trainer, and being scribbled on the back of a packet of Earl Grey in the drawing-room later under the heading “Stuff We Need.”

But the list alone does not automatically identify the exempt. Bosses in these sectors still have to tell their workers individually if they should come to work or not, and exemptions would only apply to individuals undertaking “critical work” who have had two vaccinations. Furthermore, exemption would only be granted in “exceptional circumstances” where, without exemption of a worker, there would be “a major detrimental impact on essential services”.

Exempted workers must also take an initial PCR test and then follow it up with daily lateral flow tests. If they test positive or have symptoms they will have to isolate. It is not entirely clear what the definition of “critical work” might be, or who will take on the burden of red tape that this system will generate. If past form is anything to go by, it will either fall upon employers to do the necessary (a firmly established “route one” solution), or some friends of Ministers will lobby Government to set up fast-track routes dispensing with checks & balances, and  high-powered organisations to run things properly with “essential” £1,000-a-day consultants (a proven “route two” solution that’s already produced richly successful results in the supply of PPE and our beneficial Test & Trace system – £37 billion of taxpayers’ money well spent.)

It’s clear that something had to be done to make the optics more upbeat at the end of term, and to try to salvage the damp squib that was “freedom day”. Clearly, the Government is very aware that if the great British public notices that supermarket shelves are not fully stocked with their usual choice of 18 types of toilet tissue, panic ensues, and the Government is likely to be blamed. But this is poorly thought out, hasty and ineffective work. But still, if you’re on holiday now till the Autumn, especially if you’ve got a country estate to use for the weekends, nice work if you can get it.

There will be a review on August 16th., and there’s already been a flurry of complaints from business about who’s on the list, as well as some disagreement about exactly how many sectors the list comprises . For example, food manufacturers and transport and warehouse workers are deemed “essential,” but supermarket store staff are not on the list. So the food can be delivered, but there may be nobody to receive it in-store, or to stock the shelves, or indeed to staff the checkouts. There may soon be more sticking plasters added to this one.

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