Organisations should be given access to free or low cost Covid-19 tests to help staff stay safe, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has said.
Although the infection rate has fallen after it spiked earlier this year, the BCC – which represents tens of thousands of businesses – said three-quarters of its members had at least one person off sick in the last four weeks.
Access to free lateral flow tests was withdrawn for the general public from 1 April, with only workers in high-risk settings such as healthcare eligible for free tests. Since then, organisations that want their staff to continue testing have had to pay for them.
However, as business costs rise, the BCC’s head of people policy Jane Gratton said that employers should be given access to discounted tests, telling the BBC that it was a “precarious time” for businesses.
It was estimated that one in 14 people in England and one in 13 in Wales would have tested positive for the virus in the week ending 9 April 2022, the Office for National Statistics said. The infection rates in Scotland (around one in 17 people) and Northern Ireland (one in 19) were lower, but still relatively high.
Dame Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said last month: “As we learn to live with Covid, we are focusing our testing provision on those at higher risk of serious outcomes from the virus, while encouraging people to keep following simple steps to help keep themselves and others safe.”
Return to offices
Gratton’s plea came as cabinet office minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said a “clear message” about returning to the office needed to be sent to civil servants. He wants them to stop working from home and to see government buildings return to full capacity.
Earlier this year the government withdrew advice to work from home where possible in order to minimise the spread of the virus. People are instead being urged to stay at home if they feel unwell and to get vaccinated.
Average daily attendance in government offices in the week of 4 April was 44%, figures show. The Department for Education had the lowest office attendance at 25% of daily capacity, while the Department for International Trade was highest at 73%.
In a letter to the heads of government departments, which was seen by the BBC, Rees-Mogg urged cabinet ministers to “review any guidance within your departments that sets an expectation of the minimum number of days in the office per week.”
In February, the Institute for Government think-tank said hybrid working has key benefits and that it would be wrong for the government to force a return to full-time office work.