The British Chambers of Commerce has urged the government to provide cheap Covid-19 tests and clearer guidance on how businesses can cope with soaring infections.
The industry body, which represents more than 70,000 companies in the UK, said members were reporting employee absence rates of up to 20% and that advice from the government on how to protect vulnerable staff and customers, including pregnant women, was still “far too vague”.
Coronavirus infection levels have reached their all-time highest levels in England with one in 13 thought to have had Covid in the most recent week, data from the Office for National Statistics has revealed. The figures show that nearly five million people had Covid in the past week.
The death toll overall in the UK stands at about 166,000 with 192 new fatalities stemming from the disease reported on the 31 March. There was an 11.6% rise in hospital admissions this week compared with last week.
Omicron variant BA2 was largely responsible for the rising infection rate.
Living with Covid
Under the government’s Living with Covid plans, from today (1 April) free testing through lateral flow devices ends today for the public; free tests will only now be available for those at risk of serious illness from Covid, those eligible for treatments, NHS and adult social care staff, and others in high-risk settings such as prison staff.
Retailers are putting lateral flow tests on sale for £2-£3 for a single test and £10 for a packet of five.
Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the BCC, said: “If government is not prepared to provide tests for the workplace, then it must at least look to secure low-cost options for hard-pressed firms who are already facing a rising costs crisis.
“Business leaders are keen to get back to pre-pandemic trading conditions and full capacity in the workplace, but they are worried about their legal responsibilities and liabilities once the working safely guidance is removed and replaced with general public health guidance.”
She added that businesses required “crystal clear guidance”, particularly those smaller firms which did not have their own HR teams to support them in managing the issue.
“For many firms, Living with Covid really means living with disruption,” Essex said.
“One positive Covid case in a workplace has the potential to be hugely disruptive if it causes several other colleagues to become ill and need time off work.”
Further data from the ONS today showed vaccinations rates are lowest in the accommodation and food service sector (61.7% three jabs) and construction industry (66.2%), and, predictably, highest among teaching (84%) and health professionals (85%).
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