Business are being “held back” by a shortage of lateral flow tests and increased worker absences due to rising Omicron cases, according to industry bodies.
New government rules on testing for key workers and changes to isolation rules – which allow individuals to leave isolation if they receive two negative lateral flow tests 24 hours apart – have ramped up demand.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which supplies tests to key wholesaler Alliance Healthcare that in turn supplies thousands of hospitals, pharmacies and GPs, said a “temporary issue” had delayed deliveries.
Matthew Fell, chief policy director at the Confederation of British Industry, said it was “vital that wider testing supply challenges are gripped”.
“With infection rates remaining high, the level of sickness and self-isolation is biting hard across the economy. It’s welcome that government is taking extra steps to get tests to critical workers and easing PCR requirements, and it’s now vital that wider testing supply challenges are gripped,” he said.
Mike Cherry, national chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Some of our members are finding their ability to trade is being held back by a lack of staff availability, with high levels of workers off sick and self-isolating meaning reduced hours or services, or having to close temporarily.
“After a tough festive season, it’s not the start to the year that anyone wanted to see, especially with debt levels and input prices rising.
“The changes to the rules around testing are likely to be of limited effectiveness in terms of keeping businesses running, with constraints to the supply of lateral flow tests a more immediate concern for small businesses.”
Helen Dickinson, chief executive at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Continued rising absence rates due to self-isolation will get increasingly difficult to sustain.”
The government has said 100,000 key workers from the food, transport and border sectors will be required to take daily lateral flow tests as part of “contingency plans” to limit the risk of outbreaks in workplaces.
The UKHSA said it had doubled its delivery capacity to 900,000 test kits per day since 18 December.
A spokesperson said: “Despite unprecedented demand, we are continuing to supply millions of rapid lateral flow tests every day.
“A temporary issue with UKHSA's supply chain has delayed supplies of rapid test kits to Alliance Healthcare and has, in turn, caused some disruption to the supply of these kits to community pharmacies.
“UKHSA is working with its partners to resolve this and normal service will resume shortly. Last week saw record numbers of rapid tests distributed by the wholesaler to pharmacies, with over 11m test kits sent.”
A spokesperson for Alliance Healthcare told Supply Management it had delivered more than 280m lateral flow test kits on behalf of UKHSA so far and 2m were being delivered to community pharmacies each day.
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