Prepare to Reintroduce Work from Home Guidelines, SAGE Tells Government

SAGE says ministers should be more precise about what could trigger ‘Plan B’ restrictions this winter and believes that telling the public to work from home again is one of the most effective measures it should prepare to reintroduce. The Times has the story.

SAGE noted that only about half the workforce had the option to stay at home but urged ministers to prepare for the “rapid deployment” of new measures if infections continue to surge.

Facemask mandates and vaccination passports are also options but are considered to be less effective.

The advisers have also urged Boris Johnson to decide what circumstances would trigger his ‘Plan B’. “Identifying early warning metrics and triggers for intervening is key to responding rapidly,” they said. …

New modelling from SAGE suggests that hospital admissions are unlikely to hit the peaks seen in January, when 4,000 people a day were admitted. But there are concerns that Covid cases could combine with a nasty flu season to drive hospitals closer to the edge.

“Even if peak [Covid] admission levels remain well below those of January 2021, this could still put health and care settings under significant pressure, particularly if this coincides with high numbers of patients with other respiratory infections,” SAGE advisers have told ministers in the past week.

It echoes past comments made by Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, who has said that the Prime Minister must “go hard and go early” with winter restrictions if there is a surge in cases. …

The SAGE documents also include the suggestion that a campaign, coupled with practical and financial support, may be needed to encourage people to stay home if they have cold or flu symptoms, even if they have a negative PCR test for the coronavirus.

The experts are concerned that the pandemic has entered a highly unpredictable phase where small changes in public behaviour, or the effectiveness of vaccines, could have a large impact.

Worth reading in full.

Protests and Strikes Expected as ‘Green Pass’ for Italian Workers Comes into Force

Covid ‘Green Passes’ have come into force in Italy for workers both in the public and private sector, meaning those who choose not to get ‘jabbed’ or haven’t recently tested (costing a small fortune) or recovered from the virus will be suspended from work without pay and could be fined up to €1,500 (£1,270). Workplaces that don’t comply with the rules also face being fined.

Around three million workers haven’t been vaccinated against Covid and strikes and protests are expected to take place in opposition to the new measures in the coming days and weeks. Sky News has the story.

The rule was approved by Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s cabinet in mid-September…

The pass is already required in Italy to enter museums, theatres, gyms and indoor restaurants, as well as to take long-distance trains and buses or domestic flights.

The workplace requirement has sparked big protests in Rome, with some demonstrators turning violent and clashing with police last weekend.

More unrest is feared and workers at a main port have threatened a strike.

The Government hopes the pass will encourage unvaccinated Italians to get the jab.

According to a Government document seen by Reuters news agency, 15% of private and 8% of public sector workers have no Green Pass.

But under the new rules they can be suspended without pay and fined if they work without it – a move that has been criticised by some.

The right-wing League’s Luca Zaia, Governor of Veneto, said: “We will not be able to grant a swab every 48 hours to all the unvaccinated.

“The business people I am in contact with are extremely worried.”

The UIL union said in a statement: “This is a very restrictive measure that could have a serious impact on social stability and exacerbate an already complicated situation.”

Unions said tests should be free for workers who don’t want to be vaccinated, but the Government said they would be capped at €15.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: How else can we stop these measures other than by stopping the economy, asks a spokesman for striking port workers. BBC News has the story.

“It is time to stop the economy, which is perhaps the only way we can show this Government that many people are struggling,” port workers’ spokesman Stefano Puzzer told Rai TV. “Many will remain without wages, purely because they exercised their free choice of not having the vaccine.” …

Dock workers in Trieste offered to call off their action if the Government delayed making the Green Pass obligatory until the end of October, but that was rejected by Rome.

Also worth reading in full.

Italy Makes Covid ‘Green Pass’ Mandatory for All Workers

The Italian Government will force all workers – both in the public and the private sectors – to have a ‘Green Pass’ proving that they have either been vaccinated, tested or recently recovered from Covid. Those who don’t comply could have their pay stopped after five days and businesses that don’t check passes will be heavily punished. BBC News has the story.

The measure, due to come into force on October 15th, aims to boost vaccinations in a country that has been badly hit by the virus. 

Green Pass certificates for Covid, provided both digitally and on paper, are already required to access Italian train stations, cinemas, restaurants, gyms and swimming pools. 

School staff are also required to show a pass and some teachers have reportedly been turned away from work.

On Thursday, the Italian Government approved a new law to extend the requirements to all workplaces and employees across all sectors, including the self-employed. 

Businesses and staff could face fines of up to €1,500 (£1,280) if people are found to be working without a valid Green Pass.

Announcing the decision, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said the new measures would improve safety and “make our vaccination campaign even stronger”. 

“The implementation of a pass such as the one we are bringing into force with this decree will, we are certain, help us push forward this vaccination campaign,” he said. 

Despite a vocal anti-vaccination minority, Italians have broadly backed the Government’s vaccination campaign.

Nearly 65% of Italians have now been fully vaccinated, but infections have been rising, driven by the Delta variant.

We followed Italy’s lead on locking down. It’s not inconceivable that we could do the same on Covid passes.

The BBC News report is worth reading in full.

Unvaccinated NHS Workers to Be Barred from Seeing Patients

The Government is due to publish a consultation today on mandatory Covid vaccination for NHS staff, with the Times reporting that workers will be legally obliged to get ‘jabbed’ in order to see patients – or face getting sacked.

The Government will publish a consultation today on plans to make vaccination a condition of employment for 1.2 million frontline NHS workers. Those who refuse will be barred from working with patients, meaning that they will need to be redeployed or could even lose their jobs.

Official figures show that 8% of NHS workers, equivalent to 116,717, have not received their first dose. In London 14% of NHS workers have not received their first jab.

The Government has already announced that from November 11th vaccination will be compulsory for all care workers, prompting warnings that tens of thousands of care workers could leave the profession.

The NHS confederation, which represents organisations in the health service, has argued that compulsory vaccination is unnecessary because NHS staff are “overwhelmingly doing the right thing”. However, Boris Johnson is said to be concerned about the role of unvaccinated staff in the spread of the virus in hospitals. …

Johnson spoke about people who were unvaccinated during a hospital visit yesterday. He told the BBC: “What I’m particularly concerned about is that in great hospitals like this, 75% of the people who are succumbing to Covid are not vaccinated. What I would really say to everybody is come on now. It’s a great thing to get a vaccination.”

A study by The BMJ in February found that inoculation rates among ethnic minority doctors and healthcare staff were significantly lower than among white staff. Health and care workers were in the first and second priority groups for vaccination.

A Government source said that the Prime Minister personally backed the plan for mandatory vaccination, adding: “It’s only right that those who are caring for people who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus should be vaccinated. This will save lives.”

The move could face legal challenges. Lawyers have said that employment contracts would have to be redrafted and that a blanket policy that all employees must be vaccinated would run the risk of being ruled unlawful discrimination.

Worth reading in full.

Businesses Left Confused by Government’s Mixed Messaging on Working From Home

Businesses and some Tory MPs have complained about the Government’s flip-flopping on its work from home guidelines, with Steve Baker warning that “an entire cohort of businesses which rely on office workers will be at risk if the Government doesn’t give a clear steer to employers”. The Telegraph has the story.

Back in March, the Prime Minister said Britain’s army of homeworkers have “had quite a few days off” and should soon make a “passing stab” at returning to offices. 

The Government’s work from home advice remained in place for four more months before Johnson shifted the responsibility to businesses, saying that the rest was for staff and employers “to work out for themselves”.  

The result of Johnson’s flip-flopping and mixed messaging has been that the prospect of a “big bang” as city centres returned to life has turned out to be more of a fizzle.

Tory MPs and many businesses that depend on the traffic of office workers are growing frustrated as central urban economies lag behind in the recovery.

“You struggle with getting any clear messages out of the Government really, and they all seem to be a bit distracted at the moment anyway,” says Brian Bickell, Chief Executive of West End landlord Shaftesbury. 

“There’s no reason not to come back to your office, public transport is perfectly safe… there’s no clarity of if you should go back, it’s just go back if you want to. I don’t know who they’re pandering to really.”

Experts expect more workers to return to offices from September, but whether it’s a trickle or a wave will be crucial for the future of many city centre businesses.

Johnson’s messaging has been stuck between making a full-throated endorsement for a return to offices and embracing the home working revolution. He is sitting out the big debate that will shape the future of Britain’s cities.

“Ministers need to decide whether they are willing to bear the consequences of mixed messages over whether to return to the office,” says Steve Baker, Deputy Chair of the Covid Recovery Group – an influential group of lockdown sceptic Tory MPs.

Worth reading in full.

Care Homes Could Be Forced to Call On the Relatives of Their Residents to Help Out Due to Staff Shortages Caused by Vaccine Mandate

Staff shortages in care homes caused by Government-imposed Covid vaccine mandates could force some homes to call on the families of their residents to volunteer to work on reception and to serve meals. The Telegraph has the story.

Providers have voiced fears that shortages caused by workers refusing to be double jabbed will amount to such a significant proportion of the workforce that the sector could collapse.

In what is believed to be the first case of its kind, one care home manager has written to the relatives of residents – many of whom are paying thousands of pounds for care – asking for help with caring duties “if the worst comes to the worst”.

Mike Padgham, Chairman of the Independent Care Group for York and North Yorkshire and owner of Saint Cecilia’s Care Services, which operates four care businesses, said the plan showed the “crisis” facing the sector, adding: “We want to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” …

The Government has previously estimated that its mandatory vaccination policy will result in about 40,000 care home staff – 7% – either quitting or being sacked, costing the embattled sector £100 million to replace. 

According to the latest available data, funded by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and published by Skills for Care in October 2020, there were 112,000 vacancies in the sector.

However, industry leaders warned that after the past year, as Covid ravaged care homes, causing the deaths of more than 40,000 residents, this number is now likely to be far higher and could even have doubled.

There are approximately 865,000 care workers, 87,000 senior care workers and 36,000 registered nurses in England, according to figures published by The King’s Fund think-tank in July.

Worth reading in full.

Is This Hands-Free, Virus-Scanning Workplace the Future of the Office?

A good deal of companies are telling their staff to continue working from home, but even those workers who do return to the office could find that their surroundings are not quite as they once were. This, at least, is the hope of some Bucharest designers who have implemented almost 150 ‘Covid-free’ measures in a new office design, including hands-free door handles and thermal body cameras, which they hope to see being adopted by office planners around the world. The Guardian has the story.

Entering H3, a five-storey building in a western neighbourhood of the Romanian capital, is like learning the steps to a new dance. A flick of the wrist opens the door, and a red line marks the spot at which to stand from where a thermal body camera two metres away scans arrivals for signs of fever. Those who are ‘green-lighted’ can follow the tracks to the self-clean lift, step on one of two foot pads and be transported through the building, safe in the knowledge that a UV lighting disinfection system installed in the ventilation shafts is keeping them infection-free between floors.

Anyone whose head flashes red on the screen, however, is whisked away by a plastic-gloved ‘immune steward’ into a nearby quarantine room: a glass box with a panic button and its own internal ventilation system shut off from the rest of the building. A ‘Viruskiller’ apparatus on the wall, boasting three levels of fan strength, promises to remove anything nasty such as pollutants, mould or spores that may be infecting the air, with back up provided by a sanitising UV light on the wall.

This view of the future may alarm some. Modelled on hospital technology, is this sanitised environment a place to which employees will want to return once the pandemic is considered sufficiently under control? In Romania, just as elsewhere in Europe, the majority of office workers were confined to home for much of the past 18 months. Surveys show many are nervous about the prospect of coming back.

“The point is to reassure them. We don’t want people to panic,” says Gavin Bonner, one of the main coordinators behind the Immune building standard project, which has brought together health professionals, architects, engineers, IT and building managers from around the world to help corporations prepare for post-pandemic life.

The publicly available standard, trademarked Immune, has already been applied to several buildings in the U.K. Its developers include the leading Romanian property company Genesis, also the H3 landlord, and the project has cost about €1 million (£850,560). More than a dozen other buildings, from the U.S. to Singapore, are in the process of obtaining their Immune certification, according to Liviu Tudor, the CEO of Genesis. The H3 building, as the most protected space so far, acts as the showroom, incorporating all 135 of the recommended measures.

The project is open source “in an effort to pool the best ideas”, says Tudor, who has lodged an application with the E.U. in the hope it will form the basis for a new standard across the bloc, similar to conventional fire safety codes. It embraces everything from technological innovation and scientific knowledge to workplace psychology, he says, and he hopes it will embolden both employers and employees, millions of whom are now engaged in an intense conversation about whether it is safe to return to the office – and if so, how.

Worth reading in full.

Apple Staff Told They Won’t Return to the Office Unil 2022

Apple has scrapped its plans for corporate staff around the world to return to the office later this year, having decided not to welcome them back until January 2022 – at the earliest – instead. As seems to be the case with most recent news stories, this change comes because of fears over the Delta variant. The Guardian has the story.

The iPhone maker, which will still keep its network of retail stores open, had previously told staff there would be a phased return to work from October. The delayed office return applies to its international workforce, including those based in the U.K.

The company told staff in a memo that it would confirm the reopening plans one month before employees were required to return to the office, according to Bloomberg News.

The memo, sent by the Human Resources and Retail Head, Deirdre O’Brien, added that the company did not currently expect to close its offices or retail stores, but she strongly encouraged staff to get vaccinated. …

Apple, which last month reinstated the mask-wearing policy for in-store staff that it had only decided to scrap in June, had previously planned to ask staff to return to its offices on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays by early September, before delaying that to October. Employees would be able to work remotely on Wednesdays and Fridays.

In the U.K., the company employs 7,000 staff and operates 38 retail stores, the most in any country in Europe. …

Apple is the latest major corporation to decide conditions are not yet safe enough to expect staff to return to offices.

Earlier this month, Microsoft said it would push back the reopening of its corporate offices from September until at least October 4th.

Amazon staff will remain working remotely until at least January 3rd, while Google has extended its voluntary work from home period until October 18th, having previously outlined plans for a September return.

Worth reading in full.

One in 16 U.K. Businesses Could Close In Next Quarter

A million jobs are at risk due to the ending of lockdown support schemes, with a new study suggesting that one in 16 U.K. firms are poised to close permanently in the next quarter following more than a year of forced temporary closures. The Guardian has the story.

One in 16 firms say that they are now at risk of closure in the next quarter, the study by the LSE’s Programme on Innovation and Diffusion (POID) has found. While it marks a major rise in confidence since the worst depths of the pandemic in January, there are warnings that the risk to so many workers coincides with the planned end of the furlough jobs scheme and a cut to universal credit by £20 a week.

There are also concerns that some industries are still being hit disproportionately by the fallout from Covid, with the entertainment and travel industries still making heavier use of the furlough scheme than other sectors. The number of people being paid through the U.K. scheme stood at 1.9 million at the end of June and it is due to close at the end of next month.

Huge uncertainty remains over the economy’s direction in the next six months. While confidence has risen, there are warnings over complacency. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who founded the Alliance for Full Employment group to promote jobs protection and work creation programmes, said “a new jobs crisis point is approaching as furlough ends”. …

Peter Lambert, one of the authors of the POID research, said the end of the furlough scheme would be “an inflection point” where the economy could go either way. He added: “I think there will probably need to be some continuation of support in specific sectors. My bet is there’ll be more targeted support, because unless the economy really, really picks up, there’s going to be lots of people still left in the lurch in specific sectors.”

There are also concerns over the impact on families switching from furlough support to universal credit, especially as the £20-a-week increase brought in at the start of the pandemic is to be withdrawn this autumn.

Worth reading in full.

Number of U.S. Job Openings Only Willing to Take On ‘Jabbed’ Americans Almost Doubles in a Month

While the number of U.S. employees only willing to take on new staff who are vaccinated against Covid remains low, the ‘no jab, no job’ trend appears to be increasing at a worryingly high pace. A new study has found that the number of job postings requiring applicants to have been ‘jabbed’ has almost doubled in the last month. MailOnline has the story.

The number of job postings requiring vaccinations were up 90% by August 7th from the month prior, nearly doubling from the number of postings in July, according to the report by AnnElizabeth Konkel – an economist with the job board Indeed.

Konkel noted in the report that vaccination requirements in job postings increased in many sectors that had not previously mandated vaccines. Some simply required “vaccination” and others “explicitly” required inoculation against Covid.

“The share of job postings per million that require being vaccinated against Covid explicitly is up 34% compared to one month prior,” the report reads. 

In comments made to CNBC, Konkel noted that even listings that don’t specifically outline vaccines for Covid it remained clear: “They don’t mean the polio vaccine.”

The report specifically highlighted the software development sector, which only had 3.5 job postings per million that stated vaccination was required in February.

The number of software development job postings per million requiring vaccination had jumped to 437.9 by July, an increase of more than 10,000%. 

“It’s a similar story for other sectors like accounting, retail and marketing that don’t normally require vaccination but are now starting to,” the report reads.

Of the sectors highlighted in the report, the one with the most job postings per million requiring vaccination in July was education. There were 2,166 job postings per million requiring vaccination that month, according to Indeed. …

Companies like McDonald’s, Disney, Walmart, Google, Tyson Foods and United Airlines have said that they will require at least some workers to be fully vaccinated. 

The Indeed report did not specifically address it, but MailOnline has spotted several job postings not requiring vaccination – instead providing small signing bonuses for those who are inoculated against Covid.

“New hires who show proof of their Covid vaccination earn a $100 bonus their first day,” reads a job posting for an Amazon warehouse attendant.

Worth reading in full.