image copyrightPA MediaThe two-week quarantine period for contacts of those who test positive for Covid-19 could be cut to 10 or seven days, amid criticism of Test and Trace.Writing in the Telegraph, Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin said a “vacuum of leadership in Test and Trace” was affecting compliance.Tests could be offered to people after a week of isolation, the paper said.Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told the BBC the government would be “led by the science” on the issue.And Prof Sir Ian Diamond, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), added there was “work going on” to look at the length of self-isolation period and “certainly it has been discussed at various times”. Research by King’s College London suggested just 10.9% of those traced as contacts of someone with Covid-19 remained at home for the full quarantine period.Earlier this month, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he was “very hopeful” of reducing the amount of time people needed to spend in quarantine on arrival in the UK from abroad and this could be done by testing them a week later.’Spaghetti of command’Sir Bernard, chairman of the Commons liaison committee, said public consent and co-operation with England’s system was “breaking down”.He added there should be a “visible and decisive” change, with a senior military figure put in charge of the system.Baroness Dido Harding, currently at the helm, should be “given a well-earned break” so she and others could “reflect on the lessons learned so far”, he wrote in the paper.”There is a spaghetti of command and control at the top, which is incapable of coherent analysis, assessment, planning and delivery,” he added. “People lack faith that there is a coherent plan.”‘I spoke to one person in four months’Test and Trace needs to improve, PM concedesHow does Covid-19 test-and-trace work?A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said NHS Test and Trace had contacted more 1.1 million people and asked them to self-isolate.”Dido Harding and her leadership team – drawn from the military, public and private sectors – have built the largest diagnostic industry the UK has ever seen. “It is the equivalent of building an operation the size of Tesco in a matter of months,” the DHSC spokesperson said.”We need to improve in areas and we are very much focused on that, but we should be talking it up not down.”Last month, it was announced that former Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe would be taking over as director of Covid-19 testing at England’s NHS Test and Trace agency.More than 20,000 tracers were recruited by the service, but many have complained they were given little or nothing to do.Boris Johnson said on Thursday that NHS Test and Trace required improvements so results were provided quicker. The government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, also acknowledged a need for change.Figures for the week ending 14 October reveal that just 15.1% of those who were tested received their results within 24 hours – dropping from 32.8% in the previous week.The figures also showed a fall to 59.6% in the proportion of close contacts reached of people who tested positive.’Led by the science’According to Sage, at least 80% of contacts would need to isolate for it to work properly.Health Secretary Matt Hancock has previously said up to 500,000 tests a day could be carried out by 31 October. Latest data showed 340,132 tests were processed on 22 October, with capacity at 361,573.Meanwhile, cabinet minister Mr Lewis told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that “teams were looking” at whether the self-isolation period cut be cut from 14 days but he added that “any final decision on this will be led by the science and we’re not in a position to make on a decision on that just yet”.Prof Diamond told the same programme that identifying “the optimal times for self-isolation is critical” because it was an “incredibly important part of the way in which we will control this virus”.THREE TIERS: How will the system work?SOCIAL DISTANCING: Can I give my friends a hug?PAY-PACKET SUPPORT: What will I be paid under the new scheme?SUPPORT BUBBLES: What are they and who can be in yours?FACE MASKS: When do I need to wear one?It comes as First Minister Mark Drakeford said the government would review the decision to prohibit supermarkets from selling non-essential items such as clothes and microwaves during Wales’ 17-day lockdown.Wales’ health minister Vaughan Gething defended the move, saying the ban was in place to ensure fairness to businesses that are closed during the 17-day lockdown and reduce the opportunities for people to “go out and mix”.He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “We’re reviewing with supermarkets the understanding and the clarity of the policy because there’s been different application in different parts.”A further 23,012 new coronavirus cases were reported on Saturday, with a further 174 deaths within 28 days of a positive test recorded.IN LOCKDOWN THIS WEEKEND?: Here are the best new TV and streaming shows, reviewed for youIMMERSE YOURSELF: 90 minutes of sublime music to get lost in today
image copyrightGetty ImagesA second Wales-wide lockdown in the new year is looking increasingly likely, according to a cabinet minister.Deputy Economy and Transport Minister, Lee Waters, said the current firebreak was unlikely to be the last in Wales – with England “expected” to follow.Previously the Welsh Government had only gone as far as saying it “could not rule out” another lockdown.The current national 17-day lockdown is due to be reviewed when it comes to an end on 9 November.Speaking on BBC Radio Wales’ Sunday Supplement on Mr Waters said previous projections show pandemics have “more than one peak”. He added: “This is not the last lockdown we are likely to see. The projections we published in a worst case scenario show it’s likely we are going to need another firebreak in January or February.”He added that Wales is now witnessing a second peak, with critical care admissions increasing by 57% this week alone, and that was why the Welsh Government has introduced this “short, sharp” intervention.Mr Waters said he expected England to follow Wales with a firebreak “before too long” while the Welsh Government was trying to be “consistent and cautious” in trying to flatten the curve of cases.”We are doing our best to flatten the curve. We can’t stop the curve, we can’t stop the virus spreading. Our best hope is to wait for a vaccine to help us bring it under control.”
image copyrightReutersThe EU’s chief negotiator will stay in London until Wednesday to continue post-Brexit trade talks with his UK counterpart, EU sources say.Michel Barnier arrived in the UK on Thursday to restart negotiations after they stalled, and he was due to return home on Sunday.EU sources told the BBC more talks are also planned in Brussels from Thursday. Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said he was hopeful of a “positive outcome” from negotiations.But he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge that the UK would be “ready as a country for whatever happens”, with Brexit providing “big opportunities for us”.The UK left the EU on 31 January but has been in a so-called transition period – continuing to follow EU rules and pay into the bloc – while the two sides hammer out a post-Brexit trade agreement. The transition period is due to end on 31 December, but if a deal is not reached, the UK will trade with the EU on World Trade Organisation rules. Some critics fear a no-deal scenario will cause problems for businesses, but the government insists the UK will prosper.Trade talks continue as negotiators meet in LondonTrade talks are back on – but what’s changed?What are the sticking points in Brexit trade talks?The EU had said a deal needed to be agreed by the end of October to allow time for it to be ratified by all the relevant parliaments, but UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had warned of walking away from talks on 15 October. After strong words from both sides and calls for “fundamental changes” to the approach to negotiations, a return to the table was agreed and Mr Barnier has been holding talks with UK chief negotiator Lord David Frost since Thursday. On his arrival, Mr Barnier told reporters “every day counts” and the two sides shared a “huge common responsibility” in the talks. The discussions had been expected to wrap up later on Sunday with the possibility of consequent conversations, but EU sources have told the BBC they will now continue in London for three more days, before moving to Brussels. In line with a demand made by the UK, the talks resumed on all subjects based on proposed legal texts prepared by officials.They also said that “nothing is agreed” until progress has been reached in all areas – which has been a key demand of the EU.Sticking pointsThe two sides have been at odds over the issue of so-called “state aid” rules, which limit government help for industry in the name of ensuring fair economic competition.The UK has rejected an EU demand made earlier in the year for it to continue following the bloc’s rules on such subsidies as part of a trade agreement.Lord Frost has suggested the UK could instead agree “principles” for how subsidies are spent – something welcomed by Mr Barnier on Wednesday.The two sides are also haggling over how much European fishing boats should be able to catch in British waters from next year.The EU has so far resisted UK demands for annual talks to decide stock limits, as well as a reduction in access for its vessels to British fishing grounds.
On the first Monday of this month, millions of people woke to a beeping alarm, rubbed their eyes and plodded off to get ready for another week of work.
At Unilever, they stayed in bed. Or went to the beach, or binged on Netflix or did whatever else took their fancy because their company had told them to take the day off.
The household goods giant gave what it called a Global Day of Thanks to its workers for their months of pandemic-induced productivity.
Since large chunks of the group’s 155,000 staff started working from home this year, the length of their average working week has risen by about 9 per cent.
Close to 90 per cent of employees who used to be in an office are working the same amount or more than they were before lockdowns began, the company told me last week.
Something similar may be happening at Google, which gave its staff a day off at the start of September.
Google’s move followed that of smaller US tech companies such as Chegg, an online learning outfit that shut down for a day in April, a week in July and on Fridays over summer to give its 1,600 workers a break.
It acted after watching stressed staff struggle to be parents, teachers and fully-functioning employees as the pandemic took hold.
“We realised that we had a pretty big issue on our hands,” says Debra Thompson, Chegg’s chief people officer.
It is possible to feel sympathy for those workers while also acknowledging it could be worse: ask anyone who has just lost their job or is likely to very soon.
It’s also possible to be sceptical, which I was when I first heard about Google’s efforts. At the start of this year its parent, Alphabet, became the latest tech colossus to achieve the once unthinkable market value of $1tn.
Giving a day off to its relatively small workforce (127,500 as of June) seems eminently do-able.
By itself, it is also questionable. One day of leave is cheering but if workloads stay the same and nothing else is done, it is hard to imagine that much changes.
Still, I give points to any company offering such breaks — especially in a useless vacation nation such as the US, practically the only advanced economy that does not guarantee workers a paid holiday.
For one thing, a business-wide day off sends a signal that leaders understand the existence of burnout, a serious side-effect of the pandemic, no matter where people work.
Employees in a physical workplace are just as worried about fatigue and burnout as people working remotely, according to a survey of nearly 4,000 people in 11 countries released last month. In both cases, 43 per cent said they were concerned.
An executive who offers a day off also seems likely to be the type of leader willing to experiment with other admirable anti-burnout measures, such as meeting-free days or better yet, meeting-free weeks.
That word ‘experiment’ is critical. No one really knows precisely how to manage a workforce in a crisis of this scale. Some ideas are bound to fail. Some will need drastic refinement.
The main thing is to try, as the days-off pioneers are learning.
Some firms have found that if you give staff Friday off they will just spend all day Saturday catching up, so more has to be done to ease workloads.
Others think a day off works best when the entire business downs tools at once: it’s hard to tune out in New York if you keep getting work calls from London. Uniformity is not always possible.
Unilever tried to make sure everyone took the same day off on its Global Day of Thanks. But exceptions had to be made for the finance team, which was busy finishing the latest quarterly accounts. Local public holidays meant staff in some countries took a different day off to the rest of the business.
Other companies will find different problems. Some will test entirely different remedies. The main thing is to understand the nature of the problem and then have a go at fixing it.