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Coronavirus Kent: The industry keeping food on our supermarket shelves during the Covid-19 crisis

As supply chains come under strain during the coronavirus pandemic, the freight transport industry is playing a central role in keeping our shelves stocked.

Retailers in Kent selling essential goods such as food and medicine are having to reconfigure their operations day by day to meet changes in demand from a public ordered to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus.

Kristina Curtis spoke to Eurotunnel to find out more

With lockdown in place across the country, the entire logistics and transport sector is facing the challenge of bringing the produce we need into the country and then delivering it to our doors.

In an effort to keep these vital supply chains moving, Eurotunnel has announced it will now allow small freight vehicles to travel on its passenger trains between Folkestone and Calais to increase capacity for essential items such as fruit and veg, toilet paper and medicines.

John Keefe, director of public affairs at Eurotunnel operator Getlink, said: "We are using that space to help with the supply chain, getting goods to supermarkets and to hospitals and into the medical supply chain using small vans that we can carry on our passenger shuttles, so that complements the work that we do with the freight business, which is all about trucks, and adds another rapid service part to the whole of the logistics and supply chain that we need now."

At the heart of the efforts to keep our shelves filled with the goods we need are the delivery drivers and warehouse workers who have been identified as among the nation's key workers by the government.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA), which represents businesses in the logistics industry, has praised those men and women working around the clock and insists that the nation's supply chains are resilient enough to cope with the challenges posed by the ongoing crisis.

Heidi Skinner is a policy manager at the Freight Transport Association
Heidi Skinner is a policy manager at the Freight Transport Association

Heidi Skinner, FTA policy manager for the south east, said: "The logistics industry is one of the most flexible and adaptable industries, we can see that we've got supply chains which are moving very, very efficiently at the moment.

"There’s lots of concern among the general public about supermarkets and their supply chains. We just want to highlight to the public that supply chains are not crumbling, they are doing exceptional work making sure that products are in the right place at the right time. And that goes out to our HGV drivers, our warehouse operators and our delivery drivers who are really going above and beyond at the moment to make sure that people are getting what they need.

"That’s why we were very pleased to see that they have been categorised as key workers. They really are helping make sure that products are in the right place at the right time."

Reports have reached the FTA suggesting some delivery drivers have been denied access to facilities to ensure hygiene recommendations are followed - which some fear could increase the risk of falling ill at a time when manpower is needed more than ever.

Ms Skinner said: "It’s important to remember that that’s how supply chains work, very much in a just-in-time delivery process. "We don’t have huge areas to store products, so this is one of the reasons why we need to keep these drivers in the positions that they are to be able to work as effectively as they can.

Delivery drivers and warehouse staff are working hard to keep food on our supermarket shelves
Delivery drivers and warehouse staff are working hard to keep food on our supermarket shelves

"One of the key things we’re making sure of is that they have the right hygiene facilities. We have been concerned by a number of members who have reported they haven’t been allowed access to hand washing facilities, some of these basic functions that are absolutely vitally important to make sure people stay fit and healthy.

"So we are calling on all businesses to make sure that those delivery drivers have access to the right hygiene facilities."

It's not just the big supermarket chains who are working flat out to ensure that consumer demand is met. Produced in Kent, an organisation which champions local suppliers, has produced a map of smaller food and drink suppliers right across the county.

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, click here

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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