Concerns about the potential impact of a newly discovered Covid-19 variant could have a notable impact on consumer confidence in the weeks prior to Christmas, government ministers have been warned.
Several business lobby representatives have told Westminster policymakers that the uptick in uncertainty around the latest phase of the virus crisis means they fear a downturn in consumer optimism during what for many is a crucial trading period.
The new and worrying variant referred to as Omicron is already known to be in the UK and ministers have been forced to respond with some revised public health policies, notably they include obliging contacts of anyone who catches the new variant in England to self-isolate for 10 days.
There are fears that if the variant spreads as expected in the coming weeks then there could be major issues for employers who again find significant proportions of their workforces having to stay home for extended periods.
That situation was characterised as a ‘pingdemic’ over the summer months when many thousands of people were told via mobile phone apps that they were obliged to self-isolate.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng met with business groups in recent days and was told that his priority should be to providing clarity about what policy changes will or might become necessary in the coming weeks.
Employers are reported to have encouraged ministers to allow anyone who provides a negative PCR test to leave self-isolation before 10 days to give employers a better chance of avoiding extensive disruption over the festive period.
Responding to the government’s revised public health policies, Matthew Fell from the Confederation of British Industry said the priority for ministers should be to “act swiftly, but proportionately, with the goal of keeping the economy open”.
“Clarity on the implementation and enforcement of new measures, like mask wearing will be vital so that the public and businesses can approach the run up to Christmas with confidence and certainty,” he added.
The Federation of Small Businesses has also called for greater clarity on what policy measures might be introduced in the coming weeks, specifically with regards to Covid passports and PCR testing requirements.
Kate Nicholls from the UKHospitality trade body has said her members, who run hotels, bars and restaurants across the country, are already seeing bookings being cancelled heading into 2022 as concerns spread with regards to the potential impact of the Omicron variant.