Tougher restrictions on the horizon as Boris Johnson launches Plan B

Neil McLeese, MD BeyondHR

As Boris Johnson announces tougher restrictions across England, BeyondHR Managing Director Neil McLeese explains what this means for businesses across the country.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has officially launched Plan B amid widespread concerns over the increasing number of Covid omicron cases across the UK with Health Secretary Sajid Javid warning Omicron Covid cases could exceed one million in a month.

The government has been reluctant to trigger its Plan B policy, which sees tougher restrictions hit businesses, only endeavouring to do so if cases threatened the NHS’s ability to function.

The plan uses the Covid pass to restrict access to some public spaces, such as bars, nightclubs and other crowded venues, to those who are fully vaccinated. To gain access, dwellers must either prove their Covid Vaccine status, be recently recovered from the virus or show a negative result on a recent Covid test. The work from home message has also been introduced.

The plan will be welcomed by many businesses and patrons alike, with the hope of controlling transmission of the virus whilst still allowing businesses to operate, permitting some semblance of normality to continue. However, for many, it will feel like a further setback following a particularly tumultuous 20 months with businesses predicting huge public backlash over the new guidance.

With many businesses continuing to struggle the navigation of a post-Covid-19 landscape, implementing Plan B is expected to be time-consuming and emotionally challenging and it is certainly not something firms want to venture into without a clear longer-term view of how businesses are expected to operate.

However, triggering Plan B is certainly a better choice for businesses than the alternative which could see the nation plunged back into another lockdown – which for many, could spell permanent closure.

There is no doubt that the vaccination programme has been a great success, and this is something that should incite hope into businesses as operations are set to continue into the Christmas period, but it is worth considering the impact that this decision may have in the new year where tougher restrictions are being predicted.

Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, CBE, President of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: 

“We have been calling on the UK Government for several months to set out what contingency plans for business would look like if further restrictions were needed this winter. Yet again, firms are now being asked to make changes at the very last minute. Restrictions will also impact on consumer behaviour with knock on effects which could risk the fragile recovery, order books and revenues. 

“Many businesses have only just begun to get back on their feet and this move will inevitably damage business confidence. Critically, firms need to know that the Government will support them through this next period. 

“The Government must once again stand shoulder to shoulder with business and provide a package of support to ensure that we get through a challenging winter without serious damage to our economic recovery.” 

On Work From Home 
“A return to advice that staff should work from home ‘where they can’ will come at a huge cost to swathes of businesses.  

“While many firms now have well established remote or hybrid working practices, which will provide some resilience, there will be many more that will be badly affected by reduced footfall in our towns and city centres. 

“This will impact on business revenues at a time when many needed to have a prosperous festive season.  We need to have grant support in place for all firms affected and their supply chains.” 

On Covid Passports 

“We need to immediately see full details from Government of how businesses will be expected to implement this policy.  

“Chamber businesses have told us repeatedly that this could prove difficult to implement and police effectively without comprehensive support and clear guidance. The full backing of Government and authorities is needed in enforcing this policy which can often put staff at risk of harassment or even violence. 

“In addition, they will need to understand urgently where legal responsibility for compliance with the policy sits. Businesses will have a strong preference for legal responsibility to sit with individuals to comply, as it does with facemasks.” 

“Firms will also want early clarity on whether booster shots will play any part in the scheme.” 

On Self Isolation Changes 

“We welcome the pragmatic step to allow contacts of Omicron cases to leave self-isolation per daily negative lateral flow test results. This will give businesses providing critical services a chance to maintain staff levels at a time when these are already strained by labour shortages and will help to avoid another ‘pingdemic’.” 

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