UK Business Leaders Warn Shortage of COVID Tests, 7-Day Quarantine Will Bring Britain to Standstill
08:12 GMT 31.12.2021 (Updated: 18:40 GMT 19.10.2022)
The British government has already reduced the self-isolation time for those who test positive for COVID-19 from ten to seven days as long as they can produce two negative test results. The UK Health Security Agency argued that the new rules would "help break chains of transmission" while minimising "the impact on lives and livelihoods".
Business leaders and scientists in the UK have warned that a shortage of COVID tests and the seven-day quarantine period may finally bring Britain to a standstill.
Craig Beaumont of the Federation of Small Businesses was cited by the Daily Mail as saying that the country is "now well on its way to one million people sick with COVID or self-isolating, which is seeing a rapid rise in staff absences".
He cautioned that "this will worsen in the New Year as people return from Christmas".
John Foster from the Confederation of British Industry, for his part, claimed that the level of worker absences was "starting to bite firms" and that slashing self-isolation to five days (which is now the case with the US) would be "a pragmatic choice that can help keep the economy moving".
18 December 2021, 07:04 GMT
He was echoed by the company Southern Rail, which announced that "due to the ongoing effect of coronavirus isolation and sickness" there would be no direct services to and from London Victoria until 10 January, something that will most likely keep tens of thousands of people from returning to work.
Mark Walport, former UK chief scientific adviser, has meanwhile told the BBC that "there is an astronomical number of infections in the UK at the moment, which means it's not just health and social care workers off sick, but also delivery drivers".
A similar tone was struck by Tim Spector, who also insisted that "five days [of self-isolation] is sensible for the UK, if the individual has two lateral flow tests negative. This means the risk of infection will be significantly reduced".
The comments come after Health Secretary Sajid Javid
told UK lawmakers earlier this week that supplies of lateral flow devices may be rationed over the next few weeks as the National Health Service (NHS) struggles to cope with the "huge demand".
He spoke as Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen asserted that "the biggest threat facing the NHS is forced absenteeism due to people isolating with a cold. It's exactly the same for private businesses".
Government Announces New Rules for Self-Isolation
This followed the government announcing last week that people infected with COVID in England will now be able to end quarantine after seven days instead of 10 by providing negative lateral flow results on day six and day seven.
Javid explained that the decision aims to minimise disruption caused by the rapid spread of Omicron, a new variant of the coronavirus.
18 December 2021, 05:51 GMT
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), in turn, said that Omicron's swift spread posed a threat to critical public services this winter. The agency added that the new self-isolation rules reflected updated medical advice, which would be published "in due course".
The calls to reduce the self-isolation period come amid a record surge in COVID-19 cases
caused by the Omicron variant, with England recording 198,348 new infections on 30 December, according to the UKHSA's latest estimates.
Recent studies have found that the new variant is less severe in terms of symptoms, but its high rate of transmission is leading to an increasing number of workers, including staff from the health sector, having to observe the seven-day quarantine rule.