Businesses frustrated

Call to cut self-isolation in line with England

Tim Allan
Tim Allan: why do we have to wait?

A business leader has called for Scotland to fall in line with England and cut the self-isolation period to five days.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday announced the cut from seven days in a bid to ease the pressure on employers faced with staff absenteeism.

The change is effective from Monday, though once again frustrated Scottish employers and employees will have to wait for the Holyrood government to decide whether to follow suit.

From next week anyone who tests positive for Covid in England can leave self-isolation if they have two negative lateral flow tests after five full days, which brings the advice into line with the US.

The move will free up more workers who have contracted Covid to get back to work more quickly.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said it would “make a huge difference to the hundreds of thousands of small businesses that currently have staff off work.”

Matthew Fell, CBI chief policy director, said:  “Firms are under the cosh dealing with mounting staff absences from self-isolation, so this move should have an almost immediate benefit.

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“Businesses have been urging a reduction in the self-isolation period, providing health experts confirm it is safe, as a pragmatic change that will help keep the economy open as we adapt to live with the virus.” 

However, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will wait until Monday to announce any further changes in restrictions.

Tim Allan, former president of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “We don’t need to wait till Monday- what difference will 96 hours give us? What will our evidence tell us that is so different from England?”

New GDP figures out show the economy picked up in November but figures for December are expected to reveal that staff absences have slowed the recovery.

Absenteeism reached a 19-month high at the end of last year, with private sector businesses reporting that about 3% of their staff were absent because they had symptoms of Covid-19 or had to isolate.

Cancellations across the hospitality and other customer-facing sectors severely hit takings at a time of year when they were expecting their busiest period.

Mike Cherry
Mike Cherry: huge difference

Recent data for the UK shows that 21%, of businesses reported an increase in cancellations in December, with the figure rising to 64% in the services activities industry.

Other recent surveys have shown many businesses are close to running out of cash, with one in three in the Scottish tourism sector saying they may not survive the winter.

However, economists believe the adverse impact of Omicron and the emergency measures could be short-lived, not least because it proved not to be as devastating as first feared.

Martin Beck, chief economic adviser to forecasting group the EY Item Club, said it is likely that GDP fell in December but the impact on output from the Omicron variant is likely to be much smaller than previous Covid waves.

The latest quarterly report from the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and the Fraser of Allander Institute shows Scotland’s predicted rapid return to pre-pandemic levels of economic growth has been put at risk as businesses report increased concerns over rising costs, recruitment challenges and concern over the return of COVID-19 restrictions.

Mairi Spowage, director at the Fraser of Allander Institute, said the latest data signalled “important optimism in the underlying strength and resilience of the economy,” but she noted that the survey was conducted in November before Omicron took hold and new restrictions were imposed last month.

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