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Johnson urged to put focus on data not dates

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-02-18 09:28

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a coronavirus pandemic media briefing at Downing Street, London on Feb 15, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Companies consider contentious 'no jab, no job' contracts for their staff

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urged to look at data rather than dates as speculation grows about next week's announcement over his so-called roadmap out of restrictions.

In recent weeks, COVID-19 cases have declined significantly, and if that rate continues, by the start of April, the figure could be down to less than 1,000 per day.

On Tuesday, 10,625 cases were recorded, a major reduction from figures in excess of 60,000 in early January. However, last July the figure was down to 370 and since August the daily figure has been above 1,000.

The first landmark on the roadmap will be the reopening of schools, currently scheduled for March 8, but it is feared this could have a negative impact on those falling figures, and government sources have indicated daily cases will need to be in hundreds, rather than thousands, before other measures can start to be lifted.

The chief executive of NHS Providers, a membership group for National Health Service acute, ambulance, community and mental health service staff, says the overall number of patients being treated also needs to be drastically reduced before wider lockdown easing can be considered.

In the week ending Feb 6, there were 695,400 people in England with novel coronavirus, but Chris Hopson told the BBC that there was a "pretty clear view" that number needed to be closer to 50,000.

Any change of policy, he said, should have to pass four tests; reducing case numbers, easing pressure on the NHS, the continued growth of the vaccine program, and an effective strategy in place to deal with future outbreaks.

"If you look at where we are against those four tests, each one of them tells you that we're still some way away from being able to start relaxing restrictions," he told the Today program.

"We had 500 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in September and yet, 15 weeks later, we had 34,000 patients, and we were perilously close to overwhelmed.

"So, what that says to you is that you just need to be really careful before you start relaxing the restrictions prematurely."

It has been suggested that some elements of limited outdoor mixing could return in March, with shops possibly following suit in April, and pubs in May, but no hard and fast dates are being set, as any such measures are likely to be subject to data reviews, to take place every three weeks.

The vaccine program continues to make progress, and with the initial 15 million most vulnerable people having been offered the vaccine by the middle of this month, the next milestone is to deal with the next 17 million on the list, including everyone over the age of 50, by the end of April.

By mid-March, it will be 12 weeks since the first doses were given out, so the earliest recipients will be eligible for their second shot, which could slow down the number being given their first injections.

If and when companies start returning to more regular working practices, it has been reported that some could introduce "no jab, no job" contracts for staff, as they choose to make vaccination a condition of continued employment.

Although the government has said it will not introduce any sort of so-called vaccine passport, which would be hugely legally and ethically contentious, and also create a highly divisive atmosphere of government-enforced vaccination, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has acknowledged that some companies might draw up their own employment policies.

"It's up to businesses what they do, but we don't yet have the evidence of the effect of vaccines on transmission," he told the BBC.

The Financial Times reports that some law practices are aware of companies who are considering introducing such rules, but any such move would be very contentious because of the possibility of discrimination against people who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not be vaccinated.

Care chain Barchester Healthcare, which runs more than 200 homes, is refusing to take on new staff who reject the vaccine on any grounds other than for medical reasons, and London-based repair service Pimlico Plumbers has also said new staff must be willing to be vaccinated.

The Confederation of British Industry said there was not yet a case for compulsory vaccinations, and that it still supports regular mass testing as the simplest way to make workplaces healthier and safer. Businesses, the group said, should be "committed to doing everything they could to inform and engage their employees on the benefits of the vaccine".

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