Businesses call for relaxation of self-isolation rules amid fears NHS app could impact productivity

Thu 15 Jul 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

nhs app

Businesses are calling on the government to relax self-isolation rules, with some sectors reporting that a fifth of their workforce is currently being forced to stay home after being messaged by the NHS.

There are currently 700 workers at Nissan’s plant in Sunderland staying at home in self-isolation after being instructed to do so by the NHS Covid-19 app, according to the FT.

This is causing fears among industry leaders that productivity could be slowed by Covid-related staff absences.

Stephen Phipson, chief executive of Make UK, said that the “need to isolate, even without symptoms, is now a serious issue and impacting on production”. 

Ease isolation

From 16 August it is hoped that fully vaccinated people will not have to isolate if contacted, but business groups including the CBI are asking for the date be brought forward to Monday, when most pandemic restrictions are being lifted.

The business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News that businesses couldn’t “have it both ways” in reopening the economy while still keeping precautions in place as Covid infections rose.

Test to release

According to the FT, businesses are also concerned that under new workplace guidance they are legally liable if employees do not isolate.

Ministers are said to be looking at solutions to the issue, including bringing in a “test to release” system that will allow people to return to work more quickly.

Six-point plan

The BBC reports that the CBI has released a six-point plan to instil confidence that businesses can reopen safely. CBI boss Tony Danker said learning to live and work with the virus was the right strategy.

“Businesses have had a real boost this week with the Prime Minister’s plans for the final stage of the reopening. What’s needed now is a concerted effort between business and government to create widespread confidence from the get-go,” he said.

The CBI’s proposals are:

  • Use all means to reduce self-isolation impacts on staff shortages, including test and release
  • Outline the future of workplace testing beyond July
  • Keep mask wearing on public transport under review
  • Give firms – especially SMEs – guidance on what they must do
  • Health and Safety Executive to provide assistance with risk assessments
  • Businesses to share examples of good practice

Global problem

Self-isolation-related staff absences are not unique to the UK – ports around the world have been especially impacted, as reported in the IOE&IT Daily Update.

Yantian in China is just emerging from a massive slowdown last month brought about by an outbreak of Covid.

Nearer to the UK, Antwerp and Rotterdam have experienced shortages due to staff reporting sick after vaccinations.