One in five UK workers could be off sick at the same time due to the spread of coronavirus, the government has warned today.
A new coronavirus action plan published by the Department of Health describes the disease as ‘a significant challenge for the entire world’ and warns it is ‘more likely than not that the UK will be significantly affected’.
In what it describes as ‘a stretching scenario’, the action plan warns a fifth of the nation’s workforce could be out of action during ‘peak weeks’ if the virus continues to spread.
So far, 51 confirmed cases have been reported in the UK – although a total of 13,525 people have been tested. Globally, the number of confirmed cases has passed 90,000, in 73 countries, with 3,115 deaths resulting.
However, in a message of reassurance, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has today called upon the nation to operate a ‘business as usual’ policy as efforts are made to halt the spread and improve treatment options.
Johnson said: “Today we have published the Coronavirus Action Plan setting out how all four parts of the UK will take all necessary and reasonable steps to tackle this outbreak.
“The plan has four strands. Containing the virus, delaying its spread, researching its origins and cure, and finally mitigating the impact should the virus become more widespread. That is, contain, delay, research, mitigate.
“And let me be absolutely clear that for the overwhelming majority of people who contract the virus, this will be a mild disease from which they will speedily and fully recover as we’ve already seen.
“But I fully understand public concern about the global spread of this virus. And it is highly likely that we will see a growing number of UK cases.”
The plan says UK authorities have ‘planned extensively over the years for an event like this’, meaning the nation is ‘well prepared to respond in a way that offers substantial protection to the public’.
The UK already is one of the first countries outside China – where coronavirus originated – to have a prototype specific laboratory test for the disease.
However, a number of industries have already seen supply chains impacted, while a number of major events have been cancelled. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has warned the spread of the virus and the disruption it brings will have a ‘large’ impact on the economy.
Johnson continued: “Keeping the country safe is the government’s overriding priority. And our plan means we’re committed to doing everything possible based on the advice of our world-leading scientific experts to prepare for all eventualities.
“I want to stress that for the vast majority of the people of this country, we should be going about our business as usual.”
Businesses have been warned to draw up their own action plans to enable them to cope in the event of a widespread outbreak.
Economist Rupert Morrison, CEO of orgvue, said: “The spread of Coronavirus virus is yet another rising tide of uncertainty for British businesses. Just like Brexit, the virus has serious implications for workforces across the country and for the UK’s overall productivity.
“How should businesses respond? Rather than choosing to ‘wait and see’ businesses need to be taking a proactive approach to mitigating risks.
“The sharpest business leaders will know that if large swathes of their workforce are off sick, or their factories have to close, it’s vital to plan and model different scenarios, before an outbreak like this hits. If businesses haven’t already started, there’s no time like the present.”