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Omicron: We need clarity on the rules and government support, say businesses

BUSINESS leaders have called for clarity after the sudden implementation of new Covid restrictions, which will lead to more uncertainty for companies across the region.

Those measures include staff working from home “where they can” and Covid passports for some events.

Sean Rose, head of policy at Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire Chambers of Commerce, said the new restrictions left little time for firms to prepare and that they will impact the economic recovery.

He said: “The British Chambers of Commerce is already forecasting that the economy will not return to pre-Covid levels until next year before this announcement. And, while we completely understand the need for measures to fight against a new variant to help keep people safe, they are certainly going to have a further impact on the economy.

“It is vital that the rules businesses have to follow are clear and that they are supported with any additional burden this might bring.

“From day one, businesses across Northamptonshire and Milton Keynes have played their part in helping to fight coronavirus and will do so again because they realise the importance of it.

“However, there is very little detail on what support businesses are going to receive with these new restrictions in place which is going to cause concern for firms in the region.

“Many businesses can operate from home and have done so successfully during lockdowns over the course of the past two years but it impacts other areas of the economy and drags down footfall in our towns and cities.

“While the economy is not being shut down, there is no doubt that the sudden change will damage confidence and sectors such as hospitality and retail will be hit by that at a time of year so crucial to them.

“That is why it is so important for the government to do all it can to help companies who will be impacted most and it’s why businesses should ensure they speak to our advisers at the Chamber if they need support, information or a voice to raise their concerns.”

Employees should work from home “where they can”, says the government in its advice to combat the spread of the new Omicron variant.

British Chambers of Commerce president Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith 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.

“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.

“We need to immediately see full details from government of how businesses will be expected to implement this policy (Covid passports).

“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.

“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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