covid plan b winter

How the Government’s Winter Plan for Covid Affects Business

After a summer of relative “normality,” there’s a nervousness heading into Autumn. But how does the Government’s “Plan B” for getting through winter affect businesses?

After a long 18 months of dealing with Covid 19, we’re exhausted. For many businesses, summer 2021 has seen a return to something looking a little like normal, with work from home guidance dropped and ALL businesses able to reopen.

But as we head towards Winter, a time when the NHS is always under pressure even outside of a pandemic, you can feel the nerves setting in again.

After all, last summer’s “Eat Out to Help Out” and attempt at allowing people some freedoms, was followed by lockdown in November, a complex tier system and much of the South of England having Christmas effectively cancelled. And nobody has forgotten the fact the work from home guidance was cancelled and then very rapidly reinstated last year. It was followed by a 3 month lockdown including school closure from January to after the Easter holidays at the beginning of this year.

So there’s a sense that we’ve been here before. That despite the fact many of us are able to live our lives as near to normally as might be hoped for right now, that we’ve been here before and we ultimately pay the price in winter.

But it is different in one key respect this year. 40 million of us have been vaccinated. And while the vaccines don’t completely prevent transmission and don’t stop you testing positive, we do know that they drastically lower the chance of serious illness.

And that’s what matters most here. Any lockdown or measures imposed in the coming winter months will be to protect the NHS from collapse. 

So ultimately, we need to hope hospital admissions for Covid, regardless of what case numbers are doing, stay low.

The Government’s Winter Covid Plan A

The Government’s Winter Covid plan A is basically to rely on the vaccine and additional boosters (a third dose) for the highest risk groups. 

They’ll also be inviting 12 to 15 year olds for a single dose of the vaccine in a bid to reduce the chance of interruption to education for the third academic year running.

But what’s Plan B?

The Government itself acknowledges that Plan A might be enough. It says:

This is the Government’s Plan A – a comprehensive approach designed to steer the country through autumn and winter 2021-22. However, the last 18 months have shown the pandemic can change course rapidly and unexpectedly and it remains hard to predict with certainty what will happen. There are a number of variables including: levels of vaccination; the extent to which immunity wanes over time; how quickly, and how widely social contact returns to pre-pandemic levels as schools return and offices reopen; and whether a new variant emerges which fundamentally changes the Government’s assessment of the risks.

Gov.uk

And so a Plan B is necessary.

The Government’s Plan B, in short, includes:

  • “Clear” communication to the public about the risks and advising them to take caution
  • Mandating face masks in certain indoor settings again
  • Requiring proof of vaccine status for entry to certain settings
  • Issuing work from home guidance once again

There’s no mention in the plan of any lockdown or business closures. But recent history tells us, of course, that doesn’t mean it definitely won’t happen. 

But let’s assume for the moment that plan B is as bad as it gets. What does that mean for business?

Well, the bad news for employers keen to keep staff in the workplace might be the reissuing of work from home guidance. Hybrid working and more remote working is becoming more normalised even for previously completely office based businesses. And many don’t expect it to change even post pandemic. 

There are conflicting views on that, of course.

But if guidance changes, many employees who’ve only just returned to the office will be packing their computers up and heading home again.

There’s a knock on effect here for businesses in busy city centres that typically rely on office worker trade. These are often hospitality businesses, coffee shops and restaurants, that have already seen the most difficult period in their history.

It will undoubtedly be bad news for them should this WFH guidance be reinstated.

And what about the Covid pass? How much of an effect on hospitality and leisure businesses might it have if customers require proof of vaccine?

The truth is we don’t know how many people in a night club in Manchester on any given Saturday have been vaccinated. We don’t know how many of the unvaccinated would get the vaccine if they had to in order to continue to live their life normally.

We just don’t know.

There’s reluctance in many parts of the industry, but this way is of course preferable to being closed down once again.

The good news is that it appears on the surface like there’s belief we might make it through winter without forcibly closing businesses. But businesses are certainly bracing another few months of uncertainty.

 

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