Now is the time to get ourselves back to the office

Professor Denis Kinane describes how Covid and other testing can help responsibile businesses provide reassurance to employees as the UK removes restrictions.

Office workers
Think Global Peopl Spring 2022 Issue
This article is taken from the latest issue of Think Global People magazine.
Click on the cover to access the digital edition.

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Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, the future path has never been predictable. The UK Government, along with others, has had to react quickly to changing circumstances, from the emergence of new variants to working out how best to support businesses affected by lockdown measures.   Only now, with the Omicron variant turning out to be milder in its impact than previous variants, can the Government plan for removing all restrictions and for the country to begin to return to normal.

UK government: removal of all Covid restrictions leaves many employees wary of a return to the office

The Government’s announcements on removal of restrictions has enabled businesses to plan confidently for their futures too. Most employers are now actively encouraging those who continue to work from home to return to the office either full-time or for part of the week.  However, what is critical to understand is that, while there are many employees eager to return to the workplace, there are others who remain wary of a return.  This includes those, for example, who cannot get vaccinated or who are in a vulnerable group.A recent nationwide survey found that more than half of Londoners believed that regular self-testing could be the ‘new normal’ while 52% of respondents living in London said they were ready to regularly self-test till the virus is endemic.

Self-testing could provide the answer to returning to work safely

With daily infections still running into the tens of thousands, there is a significant minority of employees who will need reassurance that they can return to work safely.  For this group, it is vital that businesses offer as much support as possible and facilitate measures to allay major concerns about the virus and its spread, including an emphasis on mask wearing, social distancing, increased ventilation, and most crucially the option of paid-for tests at work or before coming in to work.We might have to wait a little longer for all our city centres to be the bustling hubs of the recent past. Regardless of the Government's plans, what is important is that employers have a plan to enable every one to feel comfortable about returning to the office. Such a plan would need to address the key issues: how to deal with individuals or groups of employees testing positive, whether to offer free PCR or antigen tests to enable those returning to be confident they are not infected, what they might do if there is a new variant, will they retain any aspect of social distancing or mask wearing in the office. In short, being willing to take the steps that can reassure those staff who are worried that they continue to have their interests at heart. Cignpost Diagnostics has advised many businesses throughout the pandemic that needed to continue working about how to create COVID-safe environments - and we believe it is right for employers to continue to act with caution during the next few months.

International travel: Covid test requirements

International travel is another area where the need for testing will remain in place for large parts of the world for some time. Britain has scrapped the need for those arriving in the UK to take a test but we remain in a minority globally. Countries across the world have varying travel restrictions, and most still require passengers to furnish negative test results before allowing entry. With business travel and in-person trade shows resuming, it is key that employers provide accurate and timely information about testing and isolation requirements to those employees who are expected to travel for work.

Covid testing and Covid safety: wrapped up

Our acceptance of hybrid working has taken a leap forward due to the pandemic. However, most industries will require workers to return to the workplace, for productivity or training considerations, for most or all of the week.  Workers will need reassurance and thus the onus is on businesses to demonstrate to their workforces that they are invested in their physical and emotional wellbeing in the post COVID environment. The pandemic has focused people’s interest in in their own health. Responsible businesses will want to use this positive shift in attitude to encourage employees proactively to take tests, not just for COVID but for a series of other conditions. If that shift leads to a greater openness to diagnostic testing, this will have a profound impact on the health of our nation.Professor Denis Kinane is a world-leading immunologist and Founding Scientist of Cignpost Diagnostics.  
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Read more in the Spring 2022 issue of Think Global People.

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