Politics

Forcing civil servants back to the office is the opposite of ‘living with the virus’ | Kit Yates

Things will not be the similar as they have been earlier than the pandemic. We have a brand new extremely transmissible illness in our midst and we will’t anticipate that doing the similar factor as earlier than coronavirus will lead to the similar outcomes.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for presidency effectivity, has written to all secretaries of state asking them to encourage civil servants of their departments back into the workplace: “Now that we are learning to live with Covid and have lifted all legal restrictions in England, we must continue to accelerate the return of civil servants to office buildings to realise the benefits of face-to-face, collaborative working and the wider benefits for the economy.”

It’s understood that full capability doesn’t imply all civil servants returning to work in individual, apparently due to the lack of area in Whitehall places of work, however secretaries have been urged “to issue a clear message to civil servants” to return to the office in order that departments can “run at full capacity”.

This blanket edict is available in direct contradiction to a report from the Institute for Government thinktank. Reducing hybrid working alternatives, it suggests, will imply the authorities struggles to obtain its objectives of competing with the non-public sector to recruit its most popular candidates for civil service positions, relocating centres of civil service away from the capital and decreasing the dimension of its property.

Perhaps extra pertinently, encouraging folks unnecessarily into crowded work environments is not a very good technique for controlling Covid transmission, particularly when charges are already extraordinarily excessive, as they’re now. The phrase “learning to live with Covid”, as utilized by Rees-Mogg, has grow to be a byword amongst authorities ministers for eradicating all Covid mitigations and returning to pre-pandemic practices. But issues will not be the similar as they have been earlier than.

As we’ve got seen over the previous few weeks, the “return to normal” has been accompanied by large-scale disruption to colleges and companies due to infections and reinfections. The NHS is as soon as once more beneath excessive strain. Years of austerity mixed with Covid has introduced the service to its knees. Waiting lists in England for routine care are at document highs. In the long term we should always anticipate hundreds of thousands of folks to catch Covid every year leading to a inhabitants that is typically much less wholesome each from the burden of an infection and the long-term penalties of the virus. The regressive transfer of forcing folks back into busy workplaces can solely be anticipated to exacerbate our Covid issues.

Taking away the instruments that mitigate the unfold of Covid – free testing, supported isolation, masks mandates and versatile working – or the instruments that assist us monitor the scenario (the Zoe symptom tracker research and the React-1 survey) received’t ameliorate the UK’s Covid scenario, however solely make it worse. It smacks of a authorities that is determined to put the pandemic behind it by merely ignoring what is occurring.

Instead, we must be rising basic public health measures comparable to contract tracing, testing and surveillance, fairly than scaling them back. We ought to enhance public well being communication so folks perceive how greatest to shield themselves and their communities. We must be instituting obligatory standards for the high quality of indoor air by enhancing air flow, filtration and sterilisation, in addition to encouraging folks to put on high-grade masks in indoor public settings. If, as appears doubtless, the authorities is going to settle for the enormous illness burden that Covid poses, then, at the very least, we should handle the chronic underfunding going through the NHS. Capacity have to be scaled up and extra resources funnelled to major care alongside the integration of sustainable plans for social care.

Unfortunately, it seems that Covid is an issue you’ll be able to solely deal with head on. Closing your eyes and hoping for the greatest doesn’t work. Nor does declaring the pandemic over, as former well being secretary Matt Hancock has executed. No matter how loudly the authorities protests, the virus received’t hear.

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