The United Kingdom is undergoing shortages of food and other goods due to a resurgence of COVID, while supplies to Northern Ireland are being interrupted by disputes over Brexit.
The UK has been hit hard by a new wave of COVID cases, most of which are due to the extra-contagious Delta variant. The situation has been exacerbated by an phone app from the National Health Service that traces users’ contacts with infected individuals. Because this app pings users to advise them to self-isolate after contact, it has led to a shortage of workers that has been dubbed a “pingdemic.”
Sainsbury’s, the UK’s second largest grocer, has been warning of impending out-of-stocks, and Iceland, another major food retailer, has closed several stores due to staff shortages. The British Meat Processors’ Association says that Britain’s food supply chains are “right at the edge of failing” due to labor shortages. Some processors are reporting that up to 10% of their workers have been “pinged” by the health service app – which comes on top of chronic labor shortages in general.
Meanwhile, the UK and the European Union are disputing what to do about the effects of Brexit – the UK’s decision to leave the EU – on supplies to Northern Ireland.
Negotiators on a trade deal between the UK and EU had worked out an “Irish backstop” – an agreement whereby most goods shipped from the UK to Northern Ireland would conform to EU regulations. This is intended to prevent nonconforming goods from “leaking” across the unsecured border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member.
The UK is complaining that EU regulators are applying the rules too rigidly and interrupting the supply chain between the UK and Northern Ireland. The situation is anticipated to become worse in September, when exemptions from inspection for products like chilled meats will expire.
The UK wants to revisit the parts of the agreement that deal with Northern Ireland. The EU says that it’s open to talks but will not renegotiate the trade agreement.