Self-isolation rules are estimated to be costing the UK economy around £2billion – or approximately 1 percent of GDP – though the true cost “could be much more”, economists have warned.
The stark assessment comes after Boris Johnson announced earlier this week that laws making self-isolation mandatory for those who have tested positive will be scrapped in England from this Thursday. Today (Tuesday), Scotland announced it would drop most Covid restrictions on March 21, but would maintain the need to self-isolate.
Julian Jessop, a former Treasury economist and economic fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said that even with short-term staffing fixes, self-isolation rules could be impacting the economy by “at least” 1 percent of GDP.
However, he told Express.co.uk that this was based on “crude” numbers and the true cost to the UK “could be much more”.
Earlier estimates of the cost to the economy of all those forced to self-isolate during the Omicron wave last month put it far higher.
Mr Jessop said that he had based his estimates on a recent Office of National Statistics survey, which suggested that at the start of January over two million people were self-isolating.
He added that “the requirement to self-isolate could still be keeping more than a million people from working, or 3 percent of the labour force.
“Businesses may be able to find temporary fixes to limit the damage, such as asking other staff to work longer hours.
“However, these rules could still be reducing GDP by at least 1 percent, costing the economy £2billion every month.”
Mr Jessop said he believed that ending the legal requirement to self-isolate “should add to the positive momentum” the UK economy has been seeing.
In January, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) estimated that absenteeism due to self-isolation could result in a £35billion loss to economic output over January and February.
This figure was based on an absentee rate of 25 percent, it said. A more conservative estimate of 8 percent workforce absence would cost £10.2billion, or 2.6 percent of GDP, across the two months.
At the time, Pushpin Singh, an economist at CEBR, commented: “Even with only a peak of 8 percent [of the workforce self-isolating], there will be an economic cost.”
Mr Jessop said this made the perhaps “optimistic” assumption that two thirds of staff absences could be covered by temporary fixes, leaving one third – or about 8 percent – “to feed through into a fall in GDP”.