Food production lines are struggling to keep up with demand because of workers being forced to self-isolate, a meat industry chief has warned.
Supply chains are already “starting to fail” due to staff being “pinged” by the NHS Covid app, said British Meat Processors Association chief executive Nick Allen.
The industry leader criticised the government for its “confusing messages” over who would be eligible under a new exemption allowing a “small number” of double-vaccinated critical workers to dodge self-isolation to continue their functions.
Mr Allen said the industry could not rely on the measure because the bar had been set “very, very high”.
“There’s an air of despondency creeping through the industry really,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Until now we’ve managed to keep the food supply chain running but there’s a sense of we’re starting to fail on that front.”
Asked if production lines were stalling, he said: “They are. It’s happening already. We’re starting to see that at retail level and in restaurants – everyone is struggling to get things out really.”
He said the industry was not clear on who would be covered by the new exemption.
“It was made very clear to us late yesterday that this exemption will be for very, very few people,” he said.
“They described it as setting the bar very, very high and we’re certainly not counting on that.”
Pubs and shops have complained about having to close because of the number of people being “pinged” as contacts by the NHS Covid-19 app, while medics have also raised concerns.
The latest figures show more than 500,000 people in England and Wales were asked to isolate by the NHS app in the week up to 1 July.
Mr Johnson resisted calls from businesses struggling to cope with reduced staffing levels by declining to introduce a more wide-reaching change to quarantine rules ahead of 16 August, when a testing regime will replace the requirement for fully-vaccinated contacts to isolate.
The prime minister argued self-isolation is “one of the few shots we have got left in our locker” as he scrapped most remaining legal restrictions in England on so-called “freedom day” on Monday.
He suggested an exemption would cover some in hospitals and care homes, or working in the supply of food, electricity and medicines, and transport, defence and borders.
But the government has said there is no “blanket exemption for any sector or role” and decisions will be made largely on a case-by-case basis.
Downing Street has declined to say how many people will be granted exemptions, but it is understood the figure is not expected to reach the high tens of thousands.
Additional reporting by Press Association