'Urgent' need to change workers 'isolation rules'

The English economy became free of most pandemic restrictions on Monday but business leaders warned that the government must do more if the recovery was to regain momentum after 16 months of lockdowns.

Of particular concern was what has become known as the 'pingdemic' - the National Health Services test-and-trace system which, last week alone, led to more than half a million Britons being 'pinged' on their mobile devices and told they had to self-isolate at home for ten days because they had been in contact with someone who had subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.This, in turn, has led to hundreds of thousands of workers being forced to stay at home, risking the economic recovery of many businesses and even forcing the closure of some.On Monday, the government felt obliged to lift the isolation requirement for frontline health and social care staff in England because so many of them had been 'pinged' and were having to stay away from work at a time of a rising infection rate and increased hospital admissions.NHS staff members who have been in contact with an infected person will no longer be required to self-isolate and will be able to carry on working as long as they get a negative result from daily Covid-19 tests.The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is calling on the government to "urgently" bring forward its target date of August 16 when all other workers who have received both vaccinations will not have to self-isolate even if they have been in contact with someone with Covid-19.Additionally, the CBI says that even those who have not received both vaccinations should not be required to self-isolate as long as they take daily tests to prove they are not carrying the infection.
Lord Karan Bilimoria, president of the CBI, said it was a "genuine shock" that, last week alone, more than half a million people in the UK were asked to self-isolate.“With restrictions being lifted and cases rapidly increasing, we urgently need a sure-footed approach from government, creating confidence to secure the recovery," he said.“This starts by immediately ending the self-isolation period of ten days for people who are double-jabbed and providing a route out of isolation for those not yet fully vaccinated through daily lateral flow tests. Against the backdrop of crippling staff shortages, speed is of the essence.“Building and maintaining confidence is key to securing the economic recovery. Business and government will continue working together, helping people and businesses live safely and successfully with the virus."Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said the organisation was already seeing some of its members struggling to stay open because so many staff members were being told to self-isolate.She added: “Instances of self-isolation will almost certainly continue to rise between now and the change set for August 16, so firms need to know if there are any plans to help them cope in the intervening period, including any plans to roll out a ‘test and release’ process – allowing people to return to work more swiftly.” Ms Essex said that, because of the recent spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19 and the number of staff being forced to self-isolate, it was likely that many businesses would keep some staff working at home for at least the next year."But," she said, "the capability to do this varies greatly across business types, so it won’t be an option for everyone.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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