The swine flu pandemic could see over one third of the workforce out of action and cost employers £2.1bn a day – 10% more than previously expected.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the government predicted the workforce could be reduced by up to 20% by the pandemic, but this could rise to 35% if all schools were forced to close.
When the virus first reached the UK, the government predicted the impact on the workforce would only be a 25% reduction.
A spokesman said: “The workforce could be reduced by 15-20% at the pandemic’s peak. In the unlikely event that every school closed, this could rise to 35 per cent.”
At the outbreak of the virus, The Federation of Small Businesses told Personnel Today if a quarter of the workforce was off work it would cost employers £1.5bn a day – and if over one-third of employees were unable to go to work this cost would rise to £2.1bn.
The spokesman added illness rates across the whole population could reach 50%.
Meanwhile a report by the Oxford Economics think-tank has warned that the impact of the pandemic could put back economic recovery by two years as further pressure is put on already fragile companies.
The report said: “A flu outbreak in the autumn would hit the world economy just as it starts to recover from the credit crunch.
“It would prolong the rise in inflation, threaten already fragile businesses and put further strains on financial markets and fiscal balances. This could generate a vicious cycle that postpones the recovery for another couple of years.”