U.K. Government to Extend Rapid Covid Testing to Grocery Workers

The U.K. will provide supermarkets with millions of rapid home tests for “frontline” store workers as it ramps up efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.

The government is close to announcing a testing program through which supermarket employees would complete the assessments at home before turning up for their shifts, the people said, asking not to be identified as the matter is confidential. The proposal could come as soon as this weekend, one of the people said.

The plan follows weeks of negotiations between the government and Britain’s largest grocers, who are among the country’s largest private-sector employers. Britain’s “Big Four” supermarkets -- Tesco Plc, J Sainsbury Plc, Asda Stores Ltd and WM Morrison Supermarkets Plc -- have more than 700,000 staff between them.

The initiative marks a further acceleration of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to provide mass testing in schools, workplaces, shopping centers and theaters to make sure that pupils, employees and customers are Covid-free. Like teachers, police, doctors and nurses, Britain’s shop staff have been designated key workers providing an essential service during the pandemic.

Grocers strongly resisted initial government requests to set up test centers in stores, people who work in the retail industry said. They contended that attempting to test tens of thousands of workers across varying shifts and with customers flowing through stores could be operationally difficult and expensive, the people said.

Several details of the program still need to be worked out, such as whether supermarkets will post tests to employees’ homes, or make them available for collection at work, the people said. A number of grocers have been using rapid Covid-19 tests on a trial basis at warehouse depots. This effort has been seen as successful, though easier to manage than in busy stores.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has handled the discussions with the supermarkets, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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