UK employers warn of rising staff absences amid latest Covid wave

British employers warn of rapidly increasing staff absenteeism during the latest coronavirus wave, which has taken Covid-19 infections to their highest level ever in the UK.

Business executives said infections have affected entire teams of workers as a version of the Omicron virus variant known as BA.2 spreads rapidly.

Staffline, which provides temporary staff across the UK, said cases of Covid had reached a high level for workers in January when the original Omicron variant took hold, but now financial and professional services officials were affected after people returned to the office.

In London, financial services executives reported that meetings were canceled at a high rate as people became ill.

Coronavirus infections reached record across the UK during the week ending March 26, with 4.9 million Britons having Covid, according to the Office for National Statistics.

This was an increase of 15 percent compared to the previous week. Infection levels darkened those recorded when Omicron swept across the UK in early January, when 4.3 million Britons had Covid in one week.

The record number of infections comes after the government ended coronavirus restrictions in England and rolled out its “live with Covid” strategy, which has put an end to free trials.

Kara Steel, senior statistician for the ONS infection survey, said that the rapid increase in infections was “driven up” by the Omicron BA.2 branch.

Make UK, the trade body representing British manufacturers, said cases of Covid were now higher among its members than at any time since the beginning of the pandemic.

But it added that this was not “throwing up the same critical number of absences as during the ‘ping deme’ last summer because employees are not obliged to isolate themselves if they have no symptoms.

Diagrams showing that salaried employees and the service sector in general are now facing the greatest disruption from staff illness and isolation

A manager at a Newport-based construction company said Covid “spread like wildfire… People work because they need the money and re-infect each other.”

Craig Beaumont, head of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses, said one in seven UK companies reported that they did not act fully because teams became ill.

“After bringing more people back to the workplace, managers are now increasingly worried about having more Covid-19 there as well,” he added. “In the face of such disruptions, this is the wrong time for the government to withdraw free tests and downgrade safer workplace guidance.”

The government has told corporate lobby groups that there will be no rules for how companies treat staff with Covid.

However, the government is preparing to publish “Employee Principles” to help companies come up with their own policies.

The latest government guidance for England states that people with Covid symptoms should “try to stay home and avoid contact with others … until they feel well enough to resume normal activities”.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said the latest Covid wave posed a huge challenge to the workforce’s resilience.

“It’s a challenge for how to keep your workforce together and not wipe out the entire office of someone who comes in with an infection, as there are no clear guidelines for people who come to work with a runny nose and who most likely have Covid , “he added.

Spector said the UK is likely to face “increased staff absenteeism” in the long run due to stubbornly high Covid transfer and the effects of long Covid.

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