Now in the depths of a second national lockdown, the government's groundbreaking Test and Trace system has failed to control the virus. Businesses need to play their part in fighting Covid-19 and ensure that their employees abide by the Test and Trace rules, argues George Esmond. 

While the headline focus right now is on the development of the vaccine, the second UK lockdown and the impending job losses across the country in sectors ranging from hospitality to construction, businesses need to zoom out to see the bigger picture.

Society has now reached an inflection point on how it views hygiene, which will increasingly take on a core role in future business strategy, long after Covid-19 has been defeated.

This new element of Corporate Social Responsibility that involves companies recognising their reputation now involves hygiene strategy as much as any other area of business. Being Covid secure and attending to hygiene risk is a business imperative. A duty of care for customers and current and future employees, as well as a requirement for investors.

But right now, for Britain, it is not enough. MP's across the house have highlighted concerns that the Test and Trace system – used to help identify and notify COVID-19 positive cases to individuals that they have been in contact with – is only contacting 60 pr cent of necessary cases.

SAGE studies highlighted that as few as 20 per cent of people asked to self-isolate are doing so. On top of this, the NHS app, famed by the government for being a 'game-changer' in helping to reduce the prevalence of the virus, has only been downloaded by a quarter of the population.

The lockdown is delivered with prescient optimism by the Prime Minister, cajoling businesses, and the electorate to adhere to the new restriction guidance to get the R level down below 1. But for it to be successful, the level of self-isolation must increase or the lockdown will only occur again – at least until the spring arrives and temperatures increase. Four more months of economic pain.

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Alas, when Statutory Sick Pay remains at £95 a week, families who live on the minimum wage, working pay check to check, simply can't afford to self-isolate. Nor can those in self-employment. This leads to those not showing symptoms, but potentially asymptomatic, heading back to work for much-needed full pay.

Businesses must work with the government to get on top of this. Community Spread, in hospitality spaces, office workplaces and construction sites, is known for being a considerable hot spot for COVID-19 cases to thrive. There must be a financial incentive from employers to help people self-isolate, while those in the gig economy – the most precarious sector of all – need ensured employment stability to stay at home for two weeks. As well as a mandatory decision to download the app and check-in at work. This approach, working in tandem with the government, prevents the inevitable need for draconian measures- through fines and further police presents on the streets – to help reduce the case rate and an inevitable third lockdown.

The more draconian approach has seen successful results for the city of York. The Green and Lib-Dem coalition have implemented their own Test and Trace system. The system works in parallel with the government system by adding another layer of security. When an NHS test and trace worker calls a covid positive case, on a private number that cannot be returned, and the call is ignored, the council follows it up.

Officers then visit the household and inform them to isolate. They check on them regularly to make sure this is carried out. If not, the police are informed for fines to be implemented. As a result, the level of test, track and isolate has increased to over 83 per cent in a matter of weeks and cases in the city have started to plateau. And while it continues to curtails people's freedoms, inevitable when dealing with a pandemic, York plans to be in Tier 1 come December 2 – allowing more of society to reopen.

This success could be down to York being a unitary authority, and a relatively small metropolitan city with enough staff to help stay on top of Test and Trace. Such an approach may not be as successful for those in the London Borough or District and County Councils, covering large distances.

A solution is businesses playing a part in the collective effort against COVID-19. Ensuring each employer or customer has the app, regularly checking if they need to self-isolate and paying them their normal wage as they do so. It is somewhat an invasion into an employer's privacy, and a short-term financial burden for the company, I am sure the costs outweigh a third or fourth lockdown.

The development of the vaccine is hopeful, offering a light at the end of this long tunnel. But we must not overlook the importance of developing an adequate test and trace system, and the role businesses can play in allowing this to happen.

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