How the World is Responding to the Omicron Variant
Will Omicron Move More Work From Offices To Homes?
The new COVID -19 variant has forced many big names in the business world to rethink their back-to-office plans. Firms worldwide are pushing their plans of re-opening into next year or are getting ready to adopt the hybrid work environment.
In December 2019, World Health Organization (WHO) announced the outbreak of coronaviruses, a large family of viruses that soon became the cause of millions of deaths worldwide. Offices were shut down, giving rise to unemployment, and the lockdown was imposed across the world, forcing businesses to adopt the work from the home approach. Where some people thought of it to be a good countermeasure for staying productive during the crisis, it also gave rise to several work-related issues as the majority of industries could not adopt this approach.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONH), the UK labour market received a major blow due to COVID-19. Between March and September 2020, the country saw a 673,000 fall in employee jobs. The sectors that faced a significant blow include passenger transport, accommodation, travel, food, child and personal care, and domestic services. Shop staff and factory workers were also not able to work from home.
As things began to settle down and people got vaccinated, companies and firms were happy to get back to work by the mid of 2021. But now, the latest wave of COVID-19, the omicron variant, has given rise to uncertainties and tensions across the globe.
How Are Companies Around the World Reacting To the New Variant?
How the omicron variant could impact return to office plans? This became the next big question as soon as the world faced the threat of yet another wave of COVID-19. With the new variant still a mystery, many companies are ready to delay their back-to-work plans.
Apple has delayed its re-opening program to February 2022 due to the omicron variant. Also, Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook told in NBC news that they have been strongly encouraging their staff to get vaccinated. Even when the Apple companies get back on schedule in March, the company plans to implement a hybrid working model where employees will be coming to offices three days a week (Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday).
Big names like Google and Ford Motor Company have once again pushed their return-to-office plans to 2022 with no set date given.
Lyft, the renowned ride-sharing company, was all set to open its doors for the employees. But as soon as the new wave hit major countries around the world, CEO Logan Green announced a delay in its re-opening plans. The company previously wished to get started in September 2021, but now it plans to open on 2 February, 2022.
Twitter was the first company to open, allowing employees to get back to the office after the long work from home routine. But due to the recent Omicron variant, Twitter not only closed its offices in San Francisco and New York but has also rescheduled the re-openings of more branches all across the globe.
Is Omicron Variant A Point of Concern?
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Omicron as “a variant of concern” as it has a high transmission rate. According to preliminary research on this new variant, it is deduced that Omicron has a large number of variants, is more infectious, and is less susceptible to vaccines.
The UK acknowledged the first positive case of Omicron on 27 November 2021. Two people travelling from South Africa were tested positive for the B.1.1. 529 variant. As of 9 December 2021, there were about 819 cases of omicron variant, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). The early analysis also suggests that these cases will be increasing at a rate of 2.5 to 3 days.
In fact, according to the UK health secretary Sajid Javid, Omicron variant has accounted for 44% of infections in Central London. He further estimated that about 200,000 omicron infections are affecting the country each day. According to the data collected by the Department of Health, about 1,534 people were admitted to the hospitals in the capital in just a week. This latest wave of COVID-19 is surging at a much faster pace, especially in the UK. In the beginning week of Dec 2021, 513,574 cases were confirmed in the city, and the numbers are still rising.
London being the capital city, has geared up to fight Omicron. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has told that London’s top agencies are working closely together to keep things well under control. He further stated that there is still very little information about this new variant, but it is spreading at a relatively faster speed. His demand to the public was to get vaccinated and boosters, which might reduce their chances of getting infected.
People Were Working From Home before Omicron
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) only, a significant sum of the British workforce worked from home during the pandemic. 25.9% of people from all across the country worked at home at some point in the week during the COVID crisis. Moreover, about 46.6% of people from London worked from home during 2020.
70% of staff in the city of Richmond was already being productive when they were confined within their homes. However, statistics from Scotland and northern English towns of Burnley and Middlesbrough show that less than 14% of people worked from home.
May Move Work From Offices to Homes
“Work From Home” If Needed, A New Guidance by the Government
According to First Minister Nichola Sturgeon, the government has enforced new laws and regulations. By this new policy, employees in Scotland are required to work from home unless specified otherwise. The staff will enjoy home-based work at least till the middle of January. Employees can attend offices twice a week but employees and organizations are required to follow strict safety measures and even then employees won’t be allowed to work for 5 days a week.
Sir Michael McBride, the chief medical officer for Northern Ireland, has demanded that people stay at home to reduce the chances of getting the infection. He also advised people to enjoy Christmas parties and events while also considering the seriousness of the issue.
Vaccines and Boosters Become Mandatory
With the advent of the new COVID variant, the UK government has been advising people to positively respond to the COVID vaccination booster programme. The government encourages people to strengthen their immune defenses by getting two vaccines and the booster in order to help the healthcare facilities avoid pressure.
According to Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid, anyone who underwent his second vaccine should quickly grab the booster vaccine to improve immunity. This will further reduce his/her chances of getting infected by the new Omicron variant.
People who are above 40 and got their second COVID 19 vaccine three months back can easily book their booster vaccines anytime. The NHS will invite citizens below the age of 40 to get their booster jabs once they have undergone their second COVID vaccine.
Masks Are Still a Requirement At Workplaces
Wearing masks and maintaining social distance are the first lines of defence against the Alpha and Delta variants. Although the UK lifted all its restrictions on public meetings, businesses planning to open anytime soon from the start of next year are advised to follow all safety protocols. This is to keep the staff and customers safe from getting infected from the latest variant of the CoVID-19.
Also, wearing masks and gloves is necessary for staff and customers working in shops, restaurants, and public transports. Offices that plan to re-open just after Christmas must follow the safety guidelines. They should allow minimal visitors at a time, must have improved ventilation within the office building, and proper cleaning and sanitization of the workplace must be ensured.
For employees returning to industries including construction and hospitality, taking more preventive measures is the requirement by the UK government.
But at the end of the day, if any worker or employee belonging to any sector feels unsafe and can manage to work remotely, they are free to do so.
Yes, Omicron May Move Work From Offices to Homes.
Is moving offices going to a trend business and work trend with every new COVID Variant surfacing?
There is still very little information and scientific data about this new COVID variant. But one thing we do know is that no employer or employee is in to take risks. So, we can expect seamless transitions with Omicron.
When the Alpha variant broke out, the world ended in chaos right away. But with health departments across every country fully aware of the threat COVID-19 possesses, they are advising people to stay indoors and avoid attending big gatherings.
Although employers and employees are eager to get back to work, they might have to adjust and adapt to the hybrid or remote working model. Managing work from home and going to the office when needed might become the next norm of the working industry or at least until scientists and research facilities can unravel the true nature of the Omicron variant.
In simple words, if this new COVID strain is found to be severe and vaccines are found to be ineffective in preventing the infection, companies will be pushing their back-to-office plans further down the line.