The Covid-19 crisis is forcing suppliers to respond to their biggest challenge since World War II.

The prospect of absenteeism is among companies’ greatest fears.

“Our worry is personnel,” says Warbutons chairman boss Jonathan Warburton. “We make 19,000 deliveries a day. If it gets a grip of the workforce, we have a problem.”

Household goods own label giant McBride’s plant in Bergamo, epicentre of the Italian COVID-19 crisis, was temporarily forced to close down. It has now re-opened with a skeleton crew.

It reports “significant levels of absenteeism” including from COVID-19 actual cases, self-isolation, childcare issues, cross-border travel restrictions and, not least, anxiety.

Faced with the dangerous combination of huge spike in orders and the threat of staff shortages, food companies have launched massive efforts to hire more workers.

Responding to a surge in demand while observing social distancing is also very difficult.

Many companies have split key workers into separate shifts to keep them apart, in the hope of staggering absenteeism. Companies have brought in split shifts with no physical handovers and spread key technical roles evenly.

There is more and more need for testing workers as the virus hits harder, yet we do not have capacity to test all NHS frontline staff yet!