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‘Pingdemic’ puts Britain’s food supply under strain

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Britain’s supermarkets, wholesalers and haulers were struggling on Thursday to ensure stable food and fuel supplies after an official health app told hundreds of thousands of workers to isolate themselves after contact with someone with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Coronavirus cases in Britain have been broadly rising for a month, with more than 44,000 recorded on Wednesday.

British newspapers carried front-page pictures of empty shelves in supermarkets. Reuters reporters said food items were widely available in London shops although there were some shortages of bottled water, soft drinks, and some salad and meat products.

“We’re very concerned about the situation,” Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky when asked about reports of empty supermarket shelves in some areas. “We’re monitoring the situation.”

He said he did not recognize Sky’s characterization of “bare” supermarket shelves.

Britain’s second-largest supermarket group Sainsbury’s said customers would generally be able to find the products they want, though perhaps not every brand.

“We are working hard to ensure customers can find what they need,” said a Sainsbury’s spokesperson.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s bet that he could reopen England’s economy because so many people have been vaccinated has been tarnished by the “pingdemic” in which people have been told by the contact-tracing app to isolate for 10 days.

The drastic reduction in staffing that has resulted has sown chaos through sectors as diverse as food supplies, haulage, supermarkets, hospitality, manufacturing and media.

To avoid disruption, many have simply deleted the app from their phones. British ministers say the app plays an important role in countering the spread of the virus and has allowed some workers in critical roles to carry on working.

Many businesses said the situation was becoming grave. Britain’s food supply chains are “right on the edge of failing” as absence related to COVID-19 has aggravated a critical shortage of labor, a meat industry body said on Wednesday.

Supermarket group Iceland said it has closed a number of stores due to staff shortages.

“We have a structural issue with (a shortage of) HGV drivers for a variety of different reasons, but of course the pingdemic has made it even worse,” managing director Richard Walker told ITV. “We are starting to see some availability issues.”

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at industry lobby group, the British Retail Consortium, said the government needed to act swiftly.

“Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double vaccinated or can show a negative COVID test, to ensure there is no disruption to the public’s ability to get food and other goods,” he said.

BP said it had to temporarily close a handful of sites due to a lack of fuel, with the shortage of HGV drivers being exacerbated by COVID-19 isolations.

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Aramco, Schlumberger lead a financing round for a hydrogen battery company

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EnerVenue, the first company to offer metallic hydrogen batteries, announced that it has raised $100 million in Series A funding, led by Schlumberger New Energy and Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures (SAEV)- Aramco Ventures’ capital programme, the company said in a statement.

EnerVenue has established a framework for a major distribution and manufacturing agreement with Schlumberger, which will contribute to the wider availability of its batteries in global markets.

The company develops robust, flexible, and secure battery energy storage solutions based on technology proven over decades of use under the most extreme flight conditions, including operating the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope.

Enervenue was created in 2020 to bring the proven advantages of the metallic hydrogen battery into the electrical grid and other power applications, after a series of developments to significantly reduce cost and increase the availability of raw materials for the technology created by NASA in this field.

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Dubai’s DP World to invest $414.8m in London Gateway port

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Logistics operator DP World is investing £300 million ($414.8 million) to build a fourth berth at its London Gateway hub.

Construction will begin in October, the Dubai company said in a statement, as it aims to boost capacity for large vessels.

“As a central pillar of Thames Freeport, London Gateway’s new fourth berth will allow even more customers to benefit from world class ports and logistics,” said Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, the chairman of DP World.

Operated by DP World, the London Gateway is a port within the wider Port of London. It was opened in 2013.

British chancellor Rishi Sunak said the Thames Freeport will “create national hubs of trade, innovation and commerce, and attract investment” for the UK.

The investment will support this goal, he added, saying it will create new trade opportunities and support local jobs.

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SoftBank makes first Saudi startup investment in $125m deal with PIF-owned Sanabil

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Customer engagement startup Unifonic has raised $125 million in its latest funding round led by SoftBank and a unit of the Public Investment Fund.

News of the deal first came out in June, but was only officially announced on Wednesday, making it the first investment of SoftBank in a Saudi startup.

The Riyadh-based startup provides messaging, voice, and WhatsApp communication services to companies who want to engage with customers.

“From SMS for online banking to WhatsApp vaccination requests, Unifonic empowers organizations to transform customer experiences,” it said in a statement.

It claims to support businesses by providing a cost-effective communication infrastructure.

The Series B funds will be used to grow Unifonic’s platform in the Middle East, and further expand to Africa and Asia. It also plans to acquire companies in these markets.

“This raise is an important milestone in our journey, it will allow us to scale our offerings and expand our reach to enable more organizations to connect with customers reliably and effectively,” its founder Ahmed Hamdan said.

PIF unit Sanabil also took part in the funding round.

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