The government could trigger a return to home working and issue work from home advice if the NHS becomes overwhelmed by a COVID spike this winter.
The news came after the release of the Covid 19 response: autumn and winter plan 2021 document, published on Tuesday.
The document states that the government will take any action it deems necessary to protect the NHS from being swamped by COVID cases. At the same time, measures that constitute a full lockdown, such as the forced closure of shops and other services, will only be considered as a last resort.
This could see a return to the working arrangements of previous lockdowns, where government advice stipulated that those who can work from home should do so.
In an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, Sage advisor Professor Andrew Hayward said that the most important way of preventing the spread of the virus to other people was ‘not to be in contact’ with them.
He went on to say that this could mean ‘people who can work from home continuing to work from home, not having to get on public transport, not doing all the things you do around work which will make a significant difference in transmission if we get into trouble.’
The Workers Union on Working from Home
A spokesperson for The Workers Union said: ‘It’s good to see that the government has invested significant time and resource in developing a plan to deal with winter demand for NHS services. This is reflected in the response document’s acknowledgment that home working has been an important factor in preventing sustained growth in the pandemic in recent months.
‘However, we cannot just focus on raw numbers and statistics. There are human factors to consider, both in the possible return to working in isolation, as well as the potential hit to our already exhausted NHS staff.
‘In our rush to provide pragmatic solutions to persistent – and potentially deadly problems – we should not forget that extraordinary circumstances demand intelligent, empathic responses from politicians and employers.
‘To that end, we feel that the manifest advantages of home working – both from a health and safety and work/life balance point of view – must not be compromised by loneliness or isolation. Companies have to practice emotionally intelligent ways of reaching out and supporting staff, without resorting to tick box exercises that say a weekly Teams meeting is enough to gauge staff well-being.
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