The Government is coming under pressure from businesses and unions to tackle the growing worker self-isolation crisis amid warnings that Monday’s so-called Freedom Day will turn into “Chaos Day”.
There are fears of transport problems on Monday morning because of the number of workers being pinged by the NHS Test and Trace app, as well as warnings of shortages of goods in supermarkets and cuts in production at factories.
The CBI called on the Government to immediately allow double-jabbed individuals not to self-isolate for 10 days rather than wait until August 16.
CBI president Lord Karan Bilimoria said: “With restrictions being lifted and cases rapidly increasing, we urgently need a surefooted approach from government, creating confidence to secure the recovery.
“This starts by immediately ending the self-isolation period of 10 days for people who are double-jabbed and providing a route out of isolation for those not yet fully vaccinated through daily lateral flow tests. Against the backdrop of crippling staff shortages, speed is of the essence.
“Mask wearing in enclosed spaces, especially transport, will help create confidence for both staff and customers, as will clarity around the future availability of free testing for employees.”
The Rail, Maritime and Transport union said Saturday’s closure of London Underground’s Metropolitan Line due to key staff being pinged by track and trace showed how transport services were “on a knife edge.”
General secretary Mick Lynch told the PA news agency: “Many rail, bus and Tube services are already seriously understaffed which leaves them dangerously exposed.
“The Government’s botched handling of this latest phase of the pandemic, and the rank hypocrisy of the Prime Minister and his Chancellor who don’t think the isolation rules apply to them, means that their Freedom Day could very easily collapse into Chaos Day.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Government cannot watch from the sidelines as Covid runs riot.
“Ministers must urgently make wearing a mask a legal requirement on public transport and in shops, and they must toughen their vague and inadequate back-to-work guidance so workers have confidence their workplaces are safe.
“The chaos and confusion of the last few days will only grow without clear and consistent rules.
“It is reckless to gamble the safety of key workers, from bus drivers to supermarket staff, on individuals’ sense of personal responsibility.
Yet again the reopening of the economy is being impeded by poor communication and mixed messages
Dr Roger Barker
“If we want to stop Covid ripping through workplaces, people must be supported to self-isolate.
“That means providing decent sick pay to the level of the real Living Wage and making sure everyone can get it.
“With hundreds of thousands of workers being pinged every week this is more urgent than ever.”
Dr Roger Barker, policy director of the Institute of Directors, said: “Yet again the reopening of the economy is being impeded by poor communication and mixed messages.
“The latest guidance for businesses clearly states that, by law, businesses must not allow a self-isolating worker to come to work, but, at the same time, ministers are briefing the media that the app is merely advisory.”
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The Government needs to get a grip. With infections and hospital admissions rising, tomorrow’s jettisoning of the remaining restrictions doesn’t bode well.
“Unfortunately, the freedom day genie is well and truly out of the bottle, but it’s not too late for minsters to row back.
“The Government must make mask wearing mandatory again, reimpose social distancing and give NHS staff the pay rise they’ve been waiting many months for.”
Richard Walker managing director of Iceland, said: “We are in the unprecedented position of having to close stores due to staff absences – not because of Covid-19, but because of a broken and disruptive Track and Trace app.
“Staff absences rose by 50% last week and the trend is sharp and quick, not just affecting our own colleagues but those throughout our supply chains and logistics networks.
“We urgently need an overhaul of the rules around the Test and Trace app, ideally switching to a ‘Test and Release’ model which would come as a huge relief to employers, employees and customers and support the wider efforts to strengthen the economy.”