From epidemic to endemic

Insight

Published

06 December 2021

The sometimes controversial Coronavirus Act is due to expire in March 2022, two full years after being enacted as an emergency response to the arrival of Covid-19 in the United Kingdom.

And according to this YouGov poll (undertaken in mid-November) around one in three Britons think the pandemic will be winding down or finished entirely by March 2022 also.

The Omicron variant announcements of recent weeks would doubtless have changed the above findings more than a little.  Yet even without the new variant the idea that the pandemic would be done and dusted in the UK by March was outrageously optimistic.

Endemic

For Covid-19 ceased being a localised epidemic in early 2020, and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in March that same year.  And it is now so globally widespread that the virus is already effectively endemic in the world’s population. 

So regardless of the measures taken or not taken by the UK government in the next few months, the virus will still be circulating worldwide, and will doubtless continue to mutate in the years and possibly even decades ahead.  It follows that Covid-19 will return in various forms to the United Kingdom too. 

Of course in the long-term it might be possible to eradicate the virus altogether.  Yet there has been very limited success in achieving that outcome with other infectious diseases, with Smallpox being the only noteworthy global success story in recent history.     

So when will measures end?

So if we accept that versions of Covid-19 will be with us for many years to come, we also should accept that there will inevitably come a time when containment measures such as testing and contact tracing will have outlived their usefulness too.

In the United Kingdom that point is only likely to be reached once the booster programme is nearing is natural conclusion, and certainly not until the risks of the Omicron variant are better quantified and understood. 

Yet both of these dates could easily fall before the Coronavirus Act’s expected termination date next year.

The onus of responsibility

So employers and employees alike must soon expect that the surreal world of restrictions and lockdowns that we have all endured for almost two years will ultimately come to an end, and quite possibly in just over three months’ time. 

And whilst it’s likely that some government support (such as booster vaccinations) may well continue for many months or even years to come, the onus of the return to normality will probably soon rest with individual citizens, and yes employers too.

Actions for employers?

Which takes us right back to the start of this year, when Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing were actively talking about the need to build “infection-resilient” workplaces. 

Indeed in this February post we outlined the various measures that employers should be thinking about to combat not just a resurgence of Covid-19, but also the growing threats of other infectious diseases too.  And this week Dame Sarah Gilbert – one of the creators of the AstraZeneca vaccine – has also warned of the risks of future pandemics.

So the need for employers to implement such measures should not be ignored.

Employee benefits

In particular we would like to remind employers that employee benefit provision can play an important role in any such planning. 

Broadly the employee benefit tools that employers should be aiming to extend to all employees include:

The above core protections will help furnish the employer’s infection-resilience planning with some tangible and useful support measures for employees, and are also very valuable protections against all those more established and understood health risks of everyday life as well.

There is of course room to extend and embellish such offerings further still – not least through flexible benefits programmes – but for many employers the first step will be to ensure that all employees have access to those key support tools as and when needed.

For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options.  

Published 06/12/21

Steve Herbert

Steve Herbert

Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.

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