Lifting of restrictions in England aimed to help business recovery.
Boris Johnson announced that England will be moving from Plan B back to Plan A on January 27, as restrictions that were implemented to combat the omicron variant are lifted.
This includes the mandatory wearing of face coverings, the requirement of Covid-19 passports for entry into some venues, and working from home guidance.
The move is expected to provide a boost for city centres across the country, with the absence of office workers hitting retail and hospitality businesses hard. Banks, such as HSBC and Standard Chartered, have already started planning for in-person working next week.
Businesses welcome the news as footfall expected to increase
Generally, the news has been viewed positively in the business sectors, with the view that there needs to be “greater consistency in how we live with the virus in the longer term” according to the CBI. Although there is the uncertainty of new variants, changes in restrictions at short notice have a damaging effect on businesses.
Hospitality firms had already suffered hugely during 2020 with Real Business Rescue stating that Plan B restrictions implemented in December left thousands vulnerable. Despite this, the lifting of restrictions is set to be “a key milestone on the road to recovery for the sector” as the industry looks to open its doors, according to UK Hospitality.
However, flexible working and reduced consumer confidence due to rising inflation may limit the extent of this recovery, and it may take time for businesses to be consistently profitable.
Critics say lifting of restrictions has come too soon.
Although infection rates are falling, they are still higher than the peak of last winter, with some regions having seen no fall in hospital admissions at all.
Not only from a health perspective, there is a risk it could result in more staff absences due to isolating, which would ultimately damage some businesses. This may lead to staggered approaches in bringing office workers back in.
The British Chambers of Commerce has argued that the government needs to improve testing access if it wants to avoid such a situation, as the lifting of restrictions and a lack of access to testing is likely to facilitate cases spreading.
However, with high vaccination rates and protection from previous infections, the UK is one of the most protected countries in the world. According to the Office for National Statistics, over 97% of the population has antibodies which decreases risk of serious illness or death. Going forward, this is promising for businesses, but the pandemic has demonstrated how quickly things can change. New variants may force the government to act in the future and it is important that there are plans to help businesses stay afloat if needed.