The Daily Telegraph
Confused? Of course, as WFH is somehow neither blessing nor curse
‘Somehow we have ended up with more freedoms in Britain than elsewhere, yet less freedom’
There is no work-from-home order from the Prime Minister, but nor is he enthusiastically urging Britain’s army of office workers to get back to normal and return to their desks.
Indeed the Government’s official guidance to employers remains vaguely threatening: “Yes, by all means invite your workers back but remember – it’s at your own risk,” is the general tone.
You may think this odd given gross domestic product (GDP) remains a full two percentage points below prepandemic levels, and so many city office districts remain disconcertedly quiet.
The UK now has fewer Covid restrictions in place than any of our major European competitors, but we also have many more people still hibernating at home.
“Lots of people, probably the great majority of people, are taking measures [of their own],” noted Prof Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, at yesterday’s Downing Street press conference.
Somehow we have ended up with more freedoms in Britain than elsewhere, yet less freedom.
Official documents published yesterday help explain the apparent paradox and underline why ministers are not exactly encouraging people back to desolate office blocks. “There is a clear consensus that the continued high level of home-working has played a very important role in preventing sustained epidemic growth in recent months,” says the latest consensus statement from the Sage modelling group, SPI-M.
“It is highly likely that a significant decrease in home-working in the next few months would result in a rapid increase in hospital admissions,” it adds.
The expert committee reiterated the importance of “acting early” with plan B (more restrictions) if things start moving in the wrong direction.
“Early, ‘low-cost’ interventions may forestall need for more disruptive measures and avoid an unacceptable level of hospitalisations,” it said.
The committee then pointedly noted: “European comparators with similar levels of vaccination have maintained more interventions (masks, vaccine certification, work from home) than the UK and are seeing their epidemics decline.”
It could have added that countries like Germany and France also have many more people back at their desks and far fewer cooped up at home.
The latest Comix survey shows contacts between individuals in England remain at less than half their pre-pandemic levels, the great bulk of it driven by empty offices.
Lower commuting costs are thought to explain part of the difference but basic hygiene measures such as mask-wearing and Covid passports may also be building consumer and commuter confidence on the continent. “When in France I was far more social and spent more ££ out and about because I felt safer to do so thanks to masking indoors and vax passes,” one British tourist tweeted after returning home this week.
How things will play out in the UK over the next few weeks and months may hinge on how many currently homebound workers return to the office and at what pace.
Britain is currently “one of most free societies and most open economies in Europe”, noted the Prime Minister at yesterday’s press briefing.
He’s technically right, but Britain is still far from back to normal.
Mr Johnson will also be hoping we don’t all take full advantage of the freedoms just yet.