As the Omicron variant spreads, many governments are attempting to put measures in place to prevent the latest mutation from escalating.
To that end, the Scottish government, the Welsh, and Northern Irish ministers have all advised people to work from home if they can. However, England remains the only UK nation to not give the same advice to English nationals.
In Tuesday’s press conference, Boris Johnson insisted working from home is “not currently necessary”.
“We have a package in place to deal with the Delta variant, and that’s principally been rolling out the vaccine and it’s been working,” he said.
Health secretary Sajid Javid also backed the comments, adding that it’s ministers’ jobs to decide what happens.
“I don’t think [WFH] is necessary,” he told BBC’s Andrew Marr. “Because this is about taking proportionate action against the risks that we face. I think what we have set out yesterday and a couple of days before that on the red listing – these are the appropriate, responsible things to do.”
The health secretary added that ministers will decide the next course of action, not Sage members who advise the government. However, Sage has said WFH is likely to have the greatest individual impact on the transmission of the virus .
So what will the impact of this be, and is this something we’ll regret later?
Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, says WFH would be hugely helpful in containing the spread of the strain.
He tells HuffPost UK: “Getting people to work from home really does cut down on transmission of a virus, so it’s already been identified as one of the major things that could have a major effect. [But] the government has decided that it doesn’t, yet at least, want to go down that route.”
Dr Clarke adds that while the transmission of a variant like Omicron is low at the moment, that could change the longer we go without protective measures.
So why is the government holding off on WFH advice? Dr Clarke adds: “There’s been a lot of lobbying from people with business interests to stop people working from home. We’ve seen ridiculous things from MPs, suggesting that people should be fired for working from home.
“And ordinarily, MPs would never dream of telling businesses how to run their staff but with this, they seem to think it’s okay. And this is all because they believe that it’s damaging other businesses. And frankly, it should be business’s’ decisions, not some MPs with an eye on their donors.”
So, will we come to regret this decision later?
“Yes,” says Dr Clarke. “The implication of this decision is that we won’t drive down transmissions as much, which might not be Omicron right now, but it is other variants such as Delta. It also means we’re not reducing the risk of further hospitalisations.”
With people looking to the government more than ever before on how to proceed, now certainly isn’t the time for mixed messages. If it’s possible to get the job done while working from home – as seen during lockdowns and elsewhere in the UK – then perhaps it’s time the government officially recommended it here.