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Restaurant Industry Lobby Calls for ‘Test and Release’ Scheme for Vaccinated Workers

The government has relaxed the rules for some areas of the food industry, but hospitality is still hamstrung by the “pingdemic”

Smoking Goat’s menu and safety notice in the window of the restaurant — one of London’s best Thai restaurants’ safety precautions during the covid-19 pandemic
NHS Covid-19 signage outside Smoking Goat, the Shoreditch restaurant, in December 2020
Michaël Protin/Eater London

Restaurant workers and business owners in London have been overlooked in the government’s newly published guidance on self-isolation rules for those who have been vaccinated but have been notified about a close contact with a positive COVID-19 case via the NHS app.

While a number of “critical workers” — in the food industry, those like supermarket workers — are now exempt from the self-isolation rules if they have been vaccinated and test negative for COVID-19, hospitality staff will not be eligible until 16 August, when blanket rules on vaccinated individuals not having to self-isolate come into effect.

The extraordinariness of the pandemic notwithstanding, this would less likely be a significant issue for restaurants if Brexit were not having its long-predicted and long-deferred impact on staffing at the same time. The combination of enforced closures due to self-isolation and a general decline in the numbers of staff available is putting restaurants under severe pressure just as “reopening” is supposed to be kicking in.

Commenting today on publication of the Government’s self-isolation exemption list, from which hospitality was omitted, UKHospitality’s CEO, Kate Nicholls, said:

“We now face a summer of venue closures and reduced service, when we should be at a seasonal peak. [...] We all want to stop the spread of the virus, but we need a more pragmatic solution from Government. Those who are fully vaccinated should be able to test after a ping and, subject to a negative result, carry on with their lives. For those not fully vaccinated two negative tests should be sufficient to return to work.”

A government spokesperson told Eater London that “this is a short-term and highly focused measure intended to apply only in exceptional circumstances, with the core purpose of preventing significant harm to public welfare as a result of disruption to critical services.”