Business leaders are calling on the government to reduce the self-isolation period for people in England who contract Covid-19 from seven days to five, in a bid to curb labor shortages in the industry.
The Federation of Small Businesses said Sir Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, and Sir Patrick Vallance, its chief scientific adviser, should review the case for a five-day period in self-isolation, as recently recommended by US authorities.
The British government last month reduced the self-isolation period following a positive Covid test for double and triple vaccinated people in England from 10 to seven days, in an attempt to ease staff pressure on businesses and public services as the Omicron coronavirus variant spread through the population.
The NHS has been hit by significant labor shortages as staff have taken on Omicron, as well as companies in sectors such as hospitality, retail and transport.
Craig Beaumont, chief of external affairs at the FSB, said Britain should follow the lead of a five-day self-isolation period recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month.
“That’s what’s happening in the US – it’s the same science, it’s the same variant, we’re not public policy experts, but we’d urge the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor to do a good assessment there.” out of it and see if it’s possible,” he added.
Beaumont also said ministers had to remedy the shortages of lateral flow tests after companies and workers struggled to get hold of them for the past two weeks.
Fully vaccinated people cannot complete self-isolation until after a week if they have had two negative lateral flow tests on days six and seven.
Richard Walker, director of the frozen food chain Iceland, said sick leave at the company had risen from 700 before Christmas to 1700 now, about 6 percent of the workforce.
“The government must adjust its isolation policy,” he added, urging ministers to shorten the period from seven to five days.
Matthew Fell, chief policy director at the CBI, said members wanted to reduce the time of self-isolation from seven days to five.
“We want it to be watched, but we’ve always been clear that this has to be led by the medical experts – it would be self-defeating if we ended up disclosing more infections to the public,” he added.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, a trade association, also backed calls for a review of the self-isolation period, saying hospitality businesses experienced “massive drop in sales” during the holiday season, putting pressure on businesses and jobs.
Tim Martin, director of pub chain JD Wetherspoon, said there was pressure on the workforce but as a result no pubs and very few kitchens had to close.
According to the latest figures from the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, about one in 10 rail workers is currently incapacitated due to Covid.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday the government would continue to look at the length of the self-isolation period in England. “But most importantly, we don’t want to release people back into the workplace while they are still contagious,” he added.
The UK Health Security Agency set out its reasoning for a seven-day isolation period in a recent blog, saying: “In the UK, the ‘clock’ of self-isolation kicks in when a person starts to have Covid symptoms or gets a positive test, depending on what is first.
“But in the US, the advice is to go into self-isolation for five days as soon as you get a positive test, which can be several days after the first symptoms.”